The church changed its mind on slavery. Why not on sex?

Will Jones writes: It rarely takes long in any discussion about a controversial ethical issue amongst Christians for someone to bring up slavery. Slavery is the great exemple of how Christian thinking has changed on a key ethical issue. Christians in the past permitted slavery, practised slavery, defended slavery. Scripture clearly permits slavery in certain circumstances, and does not call for its outright abolition—and this has frequently allowed it to be used to defend the awful institution. Yet now we know slavery to be always and everywhere wrong and contrary to the will of God. What does that mean for how we understand the moral teaching of scripture and how we are to interpret it? If Christians for 1800 years failed to appreciate this key aspect of the moral law, does that mean that scripture can be unclear on critical moral issues? Should we therefore doubt its plain meaning and look more deeply for principles which, while apparently contradicting some specific verses, express deeper truths of God’s will for his creation?

It is not hard to see where this is going. The shift in thinking on slavery provides a model for many people of how the church might make a similar shift on sexual ethics. If the Bible seems to allow slavery, and Christians always used it to support slavery, yet now we all know this to be wrong, who’s to say that even though the Bible seems to disallow same-sex relationships, and Christians have always used it to oppose them, we shouldn’t now come to see things differently? What’s to stop the same revolution happening here, and indeed, shouldn’t it?

In a word, no. The issues are quite different in their relationship to scripture, theology and Christian history, and it doesn’t require an in depth knowledge to understand why.

To begin with, slavery in the Bible and throughout Christian history has always been regarded as a social evil, heavily regulated, carefully limited, and often suppressed. The story of God’s people revolved around their liberation from slavery in Egypt, and this fact is woven throughout their law and their self-understanding (Exodus 6:6, 20:2), and carried forward into the ethics and self-understanding of the New Covenant people of God (Galatians 4:21-31). For this reason, Jews were never to enslave one another (Exodus 21:2, Leviticus 25:39-43), and likewise Christians always placed tight restrictions on the enslavement of fellow Christians. Scripture teaches that human beings are created in the image of God, and hold the highest place in God’s natural created order (Genesis 1:26-8).

It is of course true that the New Testament does not condemn the institution of slavery outright or give clear instruction to seek its abolition. However, its teaching on freedom and equality in Christ, on love for neighbour and enemy, and on the universal application of the moral law, contains the seeds of all the later movements throughout Christian history to suppress it, prohibit it and, ultimately, abolish it.

Very importantly, the New Testament never affirms slavery, but only accepts it as an established part of the social order. This leaves the door open to the real possibility that, when the opportunity arises, it might be much better to do away with it completely. That possibility is shown to be highly desirable by all else that the New Testament teaches. For the New Testament is clear in affirming the humanity of slaves (Revelation 18:13); in proclaiming freedom and equality in Christ for slave and free (Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 6:9); in urging slaves to obtain their freedom where possible (‘for whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord’, 1 Corinthians 7:22); and even in portraying an apostle urging a slave owner to free his runaway slave (Philemon 16). This does not of itself add up to a call for abolition. But it provides all that is necessary for such a call—and in the meantime, a clear agenda for limiting slavery, softening it, and keeping it in check. Which is precisely what Christian peoples did.

The formal line amongst Christian teachers was that slavery was contrary to God’s true intention for the world, and not part of the natural law. It was in the world because of sin, taught Augustine (City of God, Book XIX), and Aquinas (Summa Theologica, Q57), Luther (Erlangen, Vol. XV, 2) and Calvin (Commentary on Jeremiah 34) followed him. However, it was in that capacity permitted and thus had a just form and was to be regulated. John Chrysostom described it as ‘the fruit of covetousness, of degradation, of savagery, the fruit of sin, and of human rebellion against our true Father’ (Homily XXII). He did, however, recognise a just form of it, and within that enjoined masters to love their slaves in imitation of Christ (Homily II). Gregory of Nyssa was the standout exception who outright condemned slavery in all its forms, asking: ‘What price did you put on rationality? How much did you reckon the equivalent of the likeness of God?’ (Homilies on Ecclesiastes).

The general tolerance of slavery amongst Christians did not prevent particular places and peoples from taking extra steps towards its suppression and prohibition. In England, for example, the slave trade was banned by the Christian Normans in 1102. Likewise slavery largely died out in Europe (especially in the North) by the later Middle Ages, though it did persist more strongly in areas which bordered on non-Christian lands (e.g. the South and East) because of its connection with the conquest of non-Christian peoples. The Roman papacy, for its part, restated on numerous occasions its prohibition on the enslavement of Christians in most circumstances, and in some circumstances of non-Christians as well. Its record was far from unblemished, however, and it sanctioned the enslavement of Africans by the Portuguese and Native Americans by the Spanish at the start of the terrible Atlantic slave trade.

Regrettably, it is indeed the case that the unequivocal condemnation of slavery in all its forms by Christian churches had to wait until the eighteenth century, with abolition following in the nineteenth. Although defenders of slavery continued to use the traditional arguments and scriptures, abolitionists were not short of scriptural and theological arguments of their own. Christian scripture and theology were full of principles and sentiments which undermined slavery at its source, and which had been used throughout history to limit and soften the institution, and at times to suppress and prohibit it. The big difference now was that these principles were being pressed without the usual exceptions and exemptions. The traditional allowances were no longer being tolerated, and the clear principles of scripture and the natural law were being insisted upon with universal application.

It would, then, be a mistake to think that abolition involved a revolution in the Christian understanding of the scriptures and the moral law, as though everyone up till that point thought that slavery was just fine. It is much more accurate to see it as the ceasing of tolerance for exceptions to the natural law which had hitherto been thought intractable. The church had always known that slavery was deeply suspect: it was not part of the natural law; it was a result of sin and a form of punishment; it should be heavily limited, regulated and softened; and it was always liable to be prohibited or suppressed, and states often did so. In abolishing it, therefore, there was no radical reversal of principles of the natural law, no overturning of biblical teaching on the goodness of slavery or the sinfulness of freeing slaves. What there was, was a final doing away with the exceptions and allowances that Christians had previously permitted for the sake of accommodating human sinfulness and its consequences.

It will by now be evident how greatly this differs from the case of same-sex relationships. Not one of the considerations given above has any application to the matter of same-sex sexual relationships. There is, for example, no equivocation in any scriptural text, New Testament or Old, in setting out a negative view of same-sex sex. There is no suggestion that the ban on same-sex sex is something that a person should seek to be freed from, or that despite the ban there is an underlying freedom and equality in Christ as regards same-sex sexual relationships. There is no tradition in the church of characterising the ban as the fruit of sin and trying to limit it or suppress it for the sake of a higher ideal of love. Unlike slavery, the ban on same-sex sex is grounded on a clear positive principle of natural law that has never been in dispute, and is repeatedly affirmed throughout Old and New Testaments—namely the creation of human beings as male and female for mutual attraction tending to marriage (Genesis 1:27, 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6, Romans 1:26-7, Ephesians 5:31-2). The relationship of the two issues to scripture, the natural law and Christian history could not be more different.

Abolishing slavery involved the clear articulation of principles of the natural law, stated in scripture, in order to overcome the exceptions and accommodations that had previously been made because of sin. Affirming same-sex relationships, by contrast, would require the overturning of clear and established principles of the natural law, stated in scripture, and the complete rewriting of biblical sexual ethics so that it no longer accords with its plain stated meaning. Abolishing slavery meant finally doing away with an institution which the New Testament clearly regards as undesirable, and which its teaching undermined at source. Affirming same-sex sexual relationships would mean approving of conduct which the New Testament is emphatic in condemning as sinful (Romans 1:26-7, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:8-11). The cases could not be more different, or the consequences of failing to recognise this more serious for the standing of the Bible in Christian moral teaching.


Dr Will Jones is a Birmingham-based writer, a mathematics graduate with a PhD in political philosophy and a diploma in biblical and theological studies. He works in the Coventry Diocesan office and has a keen interest in all things to do with public religion and social theology.

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394 thoughts on “The church changed its mind on slavery. Why not on sex?

    • Here’s a short and sweet response: I can make the argument against slavery from within Scripture itself, particularly showing a trajectory that moves toward abolishing slavery. You can’t show the same from WITHIN Scripture regarding homosexual sex.

        • Penelope, that sounds like sophistry, but you probably know roughly what he is talking about, and the thing he is saying (which you do not address) is that scripture does not become more positive towards it as time goes on. Do you think that is true or false?

          • Christopher
            No I don’t know what he’s talking about. There is no sexual intimacy which gay men enjoy which straight couples can’t also enjoy. Different for lesbians, I admit.
            This has nothing to do with what scripture mandates or forbids.
            I was replying to a comment which claimed that there was such a thing as ‘homosexual sex’.

          • You’re being selective, since as soon as you reverse it to ‘there’s no sexual intimacy that straight couples enjoy that gay couples cannot’ it becomes untrue. Anything can be true if you select the angles.

            Not only does it become untrue (my first point) but the one glaring difference is the only thing that can unarguably be called ‘sex’ or ‘sexual intercourse’ at all (my second point). It is in a thoroughly different category from all others because it is what produces human beings. Than which nothing could be more mindblowing.

      • This trajectory concept is set out very clearly by William Webb in his book “Slaves, Women & Homosexuals – Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis”. Though it does not have the snappiest of titles (!) it is an excellent book on this issue and on hermeneutical principles in general.

  1. Well, I don’t agree with Martin’s “oh dear” (above), but I do think this article feels…incomplete somehow. That’s not an outright criticism of what you’ve written, as I agree with much of what you’ve said, but just a general feeling that your argument, while intrinsically correct, just isn’t very persuasive. Sorry.

    I think the difficulty you have created for yourself has two parts.

    The first part, and the the fundamental basis of your argument; that the male – female binary is a creation principle (natural order), whereas slavery isn’t, is about as close to “Theologically unassailable” as you can get (though obviously nothing is ever beyond critique).There are arguments against this, but I found them unpersuasive.

    The second part however, is that the majority of this argument relies not on that principle, but on an appeal to the way christianity has dealt with this though history, and this is in constant dispute. Not to put to fine a point on it, but I think it’s very difficult to assert that there was ever “a formal line on this issue” and you’re simplifying too complex an issue.

    In a way, I would actually disagree that the two issues here (slavery/SSA) are as far apart as you say they are. For me, they are actually quite close. Both issues come from a denial (one positive, one negative) of what it means to be human. That is where this argument should start.

    • Hi Mat.

      Thanks for the comment. I think you’ve basically agreed with the main argument? But don’t think Christianity has given a consistent response to slavery over the years? It hasn’t, of course – in tolerating it it varied between allowing it and suppressing it. But the mainstream tradition of teaching on the matter has been consistent in the essentials, and based in New Testament teaching (I won’t repeat it here as I state it a couple of times above with the relevant references). I don’t think there is any simplification going on here.

      You may be right that there is a good argument to be made along the lines you describe (though you’d have to flesh it out for me to understand exactly what you mean). But I don’t think that alters the main point here, that the two issues are handled very differently in scripture, have been handled very differently in church tradition and history, and have very different relationships to the natural law. I guess I’ll have to find ways to make this more persuasive to you!

      • “I think you’ve basically agreed with the main argument?……”

        Yes, I would completely agree that debating slavery as a means to justify a change on this issue (SSM/SSA) is a fool’s endeavor and I did not mean to suggest that I thought otherwise. You did not need to convince me of this.

        “…..But don’t think Christianity has given a consistent response to slavery over the years?”

        Again this is, I think, beyond dispute and so I wasn’t trying to dispute it.

        My concern, and my criticism of your article which I clearly didn’t articulate well enough, is that I think you are simplifying the history; by attributing to the church a ‘unanimity of thought and teaching’ through the ages that I’m not sure carries weight historically. Even within individual movements/denominations of the church, what has been articulated in theology from the top has not always (perhaps rarely, though this is too subjective) translated into practicality on the ground. There is always a disparity, often significant, between what is taught and subscribed to on paper and ink and what people actually believe and practice; a vital nuance of ‘good history’ that is missing from this argument.

        Similarly, I do not think it as easy as you make it to appeal to the church fathers, Augustine and Aquinas were named, as in support for your position. Aquinas (and my memory of this is hazy) argued for a ‘conditional slavery’, heavily mediated and restricted, against those who were arguing for flat abolition. He cannot easily be placed into either camp, for or against. He may indeed have got the theology right, but his application of it is not consistent with that.. This is a huge aside though, and I am not confident enough in my knowledge of early church materials to pursue further…

        This is why I think (and this was the main point of my comment) that people (not specifically me) will find your article unpersuasive; you rely too much on an appeal to the consistency of past teaching, and I am not sure that is quite so ‘stable’ as is implied.

        Is that clearer?
        On your final point though, and my counter-proposal, you said:

        “You may be right that there is a good argument to be made along the lines you describe ……………….that the two issues are handled very differently in scripture, have been handled very differently in church tradition and history, and have very different relationships to the natural law.”

        And my point is simply that I don’t think they bear as different a relation to the natural law as you do. I will try to keep an explanation of what I meant brief. In my mind, ‘Natural law’ is laid out principally in Genesis, as (and this is a gross simplification) the standards and intentions God had/has for mankind; our purpose and role within creation; what is declared “good” in other words. These are inviolable rights, shared by everyone. Because of sin however, mankind deviates from this vocation, distorting that image of what it means to be human, and setting it’s own law against God’s one. Both justification of slavery and affirmation of SSA/SSM come from the same root cause. A distortion; an attempt to change the definition of what it means to be fully human; the former by removing aspects of that humanity, the latter by adding to it.

        I have to say though, it is a nice change of pace to be disagreeing with you, and I do thank you for the article.


        • Thanks, Mat.

          You say I claim a unanimity in thought and teaching, and then point out the variation in application and practice. But these are different things. I don’t pretend there was a unanimity in practice, quite the opposite, that was kind of my point. Church teaching permitted a variety of stances towards slavery, from accepting a limited and softened form, to suppressing and prohibiting it. Biblical and church teaching permitted these differing responses. The best response of course was abolition, and that eventually won through (though not via some one directional trajectory).

          I do think there was a general consistency in teaching on the matter, deriving from scripture, at least in the essentials, which is what I summarise in the article. They weren’t identical of course, and we can wish they had been clearer in their disapproval. But the framework they used, which is essentially that found in scripture, does permit and ultimately point towards abolition as the full compliance with the natural law.

          I think your comparison of the two issues in terms of the idea of being fully human has merit. I don’t think it needs to be an alternative to other arguments, though, so much as an additional angle.

          • I think you’ve articulated that much clearer here than you did in your article, so I take your point on board.

            However, I still think you are holding two mutually exclusive things/ideas together when it comes to a historical analysis/overview, even in this comment. In the first paragraph you say;

            “Church teaching permitted a variety of stances towards slavery..” and a little later “…and Biblical and church teaching permitted these differing responses.”

            And then in the next paragraph say;

            “I do think there was a general consistency in teaching on the matter, deriving from scripture, at least in the essentials, which is what I summarise in the article.”

            Do you not see how this might appear conflicted? How can church teaching (if it is indeed permitting a “wide range of responses”) be considered consistent in it’s advocacy for one of them? Do you see what I’m saying. It is my impression that you geta round this by speaking (implicitly) in terms of trajectory, but that has issues of it’s own (see Jez below).

            I concede this is a minor point, and I’ll let the other comments have your attention as they deserve it more.

            .”I think your comparison of the two issues in terms of the idea of being fully human has merit. I don’t think it needs to be an alternative to other arguments, though, so much as an additional angle.”

            Oh, yes. I wasn’t offering an alternative, or something better, I just wanted to explain that my perspective in terms of ‘natural law’ was different from yours, and that I saw them as much closer together than you do. Both are deviations from a Creation-established principle, and thus they share that distance from Natural Law as a common flaw, not a yawning gulf between them.

            Thanks for engaging.

          • The point I was trying to make was that church teaching was consistent in regarding slavery as not part of the natural law and arising from sin and the fall, but that this consistent teaching permitted a variety of stances in practice, though within a framework of limiting it because it isn’t really God’s will. (I didn’t say a ‘wide range’ of responses – they were constrained by a generally negative attitude.)

            I don’t like the idea of trajectory. There was variety, until the 19th century when the best response (most in line with the natural law) won through. I don’t see a trajectory here, just changes, with the last one being to the best (and hopefully permanent).

            I agree that both slavery and SSM are contrary to the natural law. When I said they differed in their relation to the natural law, I meant that the natural law arguments which Christians used to abolish slavery did not lend themselves to affirming same-sex sex. I accept this could have been clearer.

  2. Many thanks for including Will’s piece on your blog, Ian – it is very helpful. Although the political means of abolishing slavery was simply not available to the early Christians, it’s nonetheless the case that a careful investigation of the NT texts touching on slavery demonstrate a gradual move towards the inevitable demise of slavery in the early Christian societies. Whether Christian slave masters liked it or not, the nature of Christian community is such that ‘all are one in Christ Jesus’, whether ‘slave or free’.

  3. The argument here recognises that Christianity in New Testament times accepted slavery as part of the social order. The difficulty with then arguing that what is at one time socially accepted may not and need not be so at another time has no bearing on same sex marriage is that we now have an increasing array of social orders which include same sex marriage. Why might not current Christians in these social orders not take a leaf out of the New Testament guide to acceptance of the social order?

    Yes, of course, there are other bits of the NT approach to social order which stood out for their difference to it. But the New Testament does not make a virtue out of standing apart from the social order on every possible issue.

    At the very least that observation might give pause for thought to those of us inclined to argue that we must not countenance any change to church canons because that would just be going along with the culture of our day.

    • Hi Peter.

      An interesting idea: the argument that the church should accommodate a social institution that, while objectionable, is arguably less objectionable than slavery. If scripture and the church tolerated slavery in their day, why shouldn’t we tolerate same-sex marriage in ours?

      It would be interesting to see a fully worked argument for that. I suspect it would falter on a number of points, not least that it is surely a regressive move deliberately to begin to tolerate something new that we have always been clear is wrong. I doubt also that it would have any appeal to proponents, since it would not affirm same-sex relationships in the way that is sought. An interesting idea though.

      • Hi Will
        I am an advocate for good arguments but not for SSB or SSM.

        My point is that your argument needs strengthening in respect of allowing for acceptance of social order on one matter but no on another.

        Your reply above continues the weakness: if the case against accepting slavery includes material concerning the redemption of Israel from the evil of slavery, on what grounds did NT writers “move deliberately to begin to tolerate something new that [they had] always been clear [was] wrong”?

        What could be argued (and I would argue within my own church/state context in New Zealand) is that slavery is a complex issue, consistently evidencing until comparatively recent times that Christians were not in agreement for substantial periods of time about whether it could or should be tolerated.

        The complexity of the matter (as I understand) includes the fact of debate about the clarity with which Scripture spoke against slavery, and this past debate might provide an analogy for why the church might live with “good disagreement” on the matter of SSB [current focus of our church] or even SSM [rising focus for the CofE].

        • Hi Peter.

          I just don’t see anyone making the argument that SSM is a social evil that the church should begin to tolerate. Who is making that argument? Proponents are arguing that it is a social good that should be affirmed as such, and scriptures against it should be reinterpreted or, failing that, set aside. Doctrine should be rewritten and the understanding of the natural law overturned. That’s a totally different kind of demand, not mere toleration for something acknowledged to arise from sin and the fall.

          The problem with ‘good disagreement’ on this matter is that it would be achieved by changing church teaching and setting aside the clear teaching of scripture. The ‘compromise’ would be that orthodox believers would be allowed to continue to eschew the new teaching – for now. But how long would that last? And even if it did, the church would have changed its teaching in opposition to that of the Bible, which is disastrous from an integrity point of view, and all evidence says from a mission point of view as well.

          • Hi Will
            That is precisely the stronger argument I incline to.
            I do not think invocation of slavery and the church’s tortuous history with it makes one iota of difference to the argument you make in the comment immediately above.

      • Hi Peter,

        This is an interesting line of discussion, and it depends on what’s meant by ‘acceptance of social order’. In respect of acceptance, we need to distinguish toleration from affirmation.

        So, in our society, we ‘tolerate’ the right to free speech of extremists and the widespread availability of sexually ‘diverse’ content on the internet. Yet, far from affirming either, there are institutions in society which can and do reject both.

        So, if what’s meant by acceptance, i.e, is the lack of insistence on a universal ban, then same-sex sexual relationships are already tolerated by the Church.

        Beyond toleration, revisionists are demanding some sort of liturgy, which represents official Church affirmation. That’s why there’s actually so little room for ‘good disagreement’ on this.

        • Hi David
          I think at certain points the church did more than tolerate slavery, even if it came up with no actual liturgy affirming it.
          Given that (as I understand things) there were points where Christians advocated for slavery from the Bible and Christians opposed slavery from the Bible, but did not actually split apart, I suggest there was “good disagreement” between opposing views grounded in Scripture.

          • Hi Peter,

            Revisionists do not cast themselves as the Church in their simplistic’heroes and villains’ anti-slavery analogy.

            The reason that the Church didn’t split apart over slavery was than, apart from a few prominent clergy, it was very much wedded to the slave trade.

            So, the Clapham Sect was comprised of prominent, wealthy Anglican evangelicals, while Quakers made up the majority of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, who were first to petition Parliament.

            And back in 1783, the Church of England’s Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts was happy to receive Christopher Codrington’s bequest of his Barbados sugar plantations, blithely indifferent to the plight of the 350 slaves on that estate, who all had the word ‘society’ branded with a hot iron onto their chests.

            Sure, Wilberforce was Anglican and spearheaded the parliamentary campaign from 1787, but the increase ‘grass-roots’ support for the abolitionist movement iwas not down to the Church of England, but largely attributable to Protestant Dissenters.

            I’m 1835, the then Bishop of Exeter even accepted compensation of £12,700 for the loss of his 655 Jamaican slaves due to abolition.

            So, it would be an exaggeration to describe as an example of ‘good disagreement’ the five or so decades in which the two opposing views co-existed, despite one of them so clearly gaining ascendancy by the condemnation and outlawing the other.

            In fact, it demonstrates the very opposite of so-called ‘good disagreement’, which is the failed mantra of those wanting peace at any price.

            And the fundamental problem with this stupid analogy is that same-sex sexual behaviour is still simply another type of sexual behaviour. It is not a fixed part of the essence of personhood, or identity, like race, gender.

            And just because some people argue for certain kinds of sexual behaviour to be valorised as part of an identity doesn’t magically imbue it with the right to be affirmed any more than any other type of sexual behaviour.

          • David
            Interesting that it was the Church, in the form of +Exeter and his ilk who were capitulating to the secular spirit of the age.
            Race (and maybe gender) is a human construction. There is no scienasis for race. There is of course for two, or more, biological sexes.

          • Hi Penelope.

            This sounds like one of those ‘what is real’ debates. Obviously the concept of race is a human construction. All human concepts are human constructions. The question is whether it corresponds to anything in the world i.e. in the structure of nature. Concepts of race are based on broad genetic groupings of human beings, which display broadly similar features. Those groupings may not be starkly delineated from one another, but you could hardly say they aren’t real or have no scientific basis. Much of biology involves classifying broad genetic groupings according to their features, and you can’t say these have no scientific basis.

          • Race is an ideology. It has no scientific basis. But people continue to thin it’s ‘real’ because that is what they have been taught.

          • There is no spoon…

            Except, scripture seems to think there is:

            By your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation. Revelation 5:9

            I suppose none of these are real either? But then how did Jesus ransom for God saints from all of them? Magic! Maybe God is just pretending they exist too…

          • Hi David
            There is no stupid analogy where we observe that Christians disagreed without schism, as you concede.

          • Yeah, Will,

            But compared to race being described here as ideology, we are told that LGBT identity is real and neither a human construct nor an ideology, but a fixed ‘natural essence, a self with same sex desires’.

            In fact, this notion of LGBT identity is ideology which, when promoted as resembling race and gender becomes the basis for pursuing status-based claims of discrimination
            against those who reject it.

          • Hi Will.
            Except that none of those words is race. Although, ethnos, could be translated as race. But we don’t look to scripture for science. This is just a way of saying all peoples.

          • Yes, Christopher, but the data shows that ‘race’ is ideology (which I know you dislike), not biology.

          • But we knew that already.

            (a) How does that make degrees of pigmentation any less of a reality?

            (b) How does that make other physical features characteristic of dwellers in particular geographical locations less of a reality?

        • Peter,

          The stupidity of the analogy is that it tries to reify sexual preference as a type of behavioural ethnicity by comparing it with race.

          Somehow I think that the ABC’s concept of ‘good disagreement’ goes beyond the mere ‘holding position’ at the end of the 18C, which could only be sustained until one view gained ascendancy to the obliteration of the other.

          To disagree without schism involved one group completely capitulating to the other. That won’t happen in this debate.

          • Hi David
            I accept that slavery was not a permanent good disagreement and there are indications that good disagreement re homosexuality would, indeed, not last for ever.
            What is not so clear to me is which side, in the long run, will prevail. After all the conservatives argue that liberal Anglicanism is withering on the vine … and liberals argue that conservatism (at least on this matter) is (at risk of another stupid analogy) Canute like as it attempts to turn the tide of history and the arc of injustice!

          • Hi Peter,

            What’s actually Canute-like is the ABC’s unwarranted insistence that ‘good disagreement’ is achievable when all of the evidence points the other way.

            The GS2071 staking horse will decide whether conservative evangelicals will become a muted voice on the fringe, or will muster enough political influence to rouse the moderate majority from their ‘peace at (almost) any price’ apathy and complacency.

            If the conservative wing cannot instigate widespread hue and cry over transgender liturgy, then the Archbishops will interpret this as evidence of their dwindling influence on the Church. Further innovations for LGBT affirmatiob will rapidly ensue.

            Certainly, from all appearances at the July Synod, conservative bishops appear to have already thrown in the towel.

            My own view is that some of the more prominent conservative voices will find themselves sidelined, intimidated, dismissed as dangerous fundamentalists, only to be eventually replaced by those, who might also be card-carrying conservatives, but now want compromise.

            For those who remain in the CofE, the sexuality debate will take second place to Church-wide efforts to defuse the demographic time-bomb which will considerably reduce clergy numbers and the Church’s influence on society.

            Resourcing ordained ministry will become the number-one crisis around which the whole Church will rally.

  4. I’m agnostic on this issue, but we need better thinking and writing than this, unless we’re just trying to protect the traditional opinion from scrutiny.

    Your argument, and my doubts.

    1: “There’s a trajectory on slavery, there isn’t on same sex.”

    1A: The slavery scriptual trajectory is overstated here, from hindsight and in the light of church history.

    1B: Much of the practical trajectory stated here is post scripture, and goes more explicitly beyond scripture, which actually helps the same sex case for post Scriptural trajectory.

    1C: The NT equality counter-cultural principles referenced, set the potential equivalent same sex evolution, rather than undermine it.

    1D: This statement:
    “The general tolerance of slavery amongst Christians did not prevent particular places and peoples from taking extra steps towards its suppression and prohibition … ”
    could equally validly be echoed by this one:
    “The general opposition to same sex relations amongst Christians did not prevent particular places and peoples from taking extra steps towards its gradual allowance under modern definitions.”
    So where does that logic get us?

    1E: “Regrettably, the shift on slavery took 18 centuries to complete.”
    A good point, these things can take time, making history an inconsistent judge up to (and after?) that point on any issue.

    1F: So instead of this: “It will by now be evident how greatly this differs from the case of same-sex relationships … ”
    This could be the case:
    “It will by now be evident how similar this Biblical and post Scriptural evolution is to the as yet unfinished case of same-sex relationships.”

    2: “Slavery in the Bible has always been regarded as a social evil.”

    2A: A statement that pretty much sums up the careless hermeneutics, biased towards the presumption of traditional correctness, in this entire piece, on both sides of this comparison.

    2B: Exodus 21:2 undermines the argument being made that it’s used to support. It proves that slavery was accepted and allowed in the OT nation, and was limited. This verse also doesn’t say anything about foreign slavery. That’s part of the old African slavers’ Christian defence.

    2C: The other passage placed alongside this one proves that the Biblical content is a dialogue between different perspectives in different cultures, eras and contexts. The subject has shifted, so these quotes actually back up ethical debates and shifts on issues addressed by scripture, rather than proving that everything has a single once for all definitive position.

    3: “Here’s are the NT references to same sex issues” …

    3A: Followed by a list with no assessment of the unique translation issues and cultural background in the difficult and unprecedented NT vocabulary and nomenclature.

    3B: “Affirming same-sex sexual relationships would mean approving of conduct which the New Testament is emphatic in condemning as sinful (Romans 1:26-7, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:8-11).”
    This list is provided without the degree of detail about context attempted earlier in the piece. It could act either as a piece of deliberate bluff, or is written by someone unaware of the translation debates, or unwilling for their readership to look into them,

    3C: … and vitally, it fails on the test of an argument as to whether it represents and replies to the best argued version of your opponent’s position.

    3D: Is your Doctorate is in a relevant discipline for the subject or topic being addressed? This isn’t made clear in the biog???

    I remain unconvinced either way on this important debate, but this type of piece can read like an act of bluff in order to ward off people from looking properly at the real issues in the debate, especially the translation and context of key words in the NT vocabulary on this subject.

    NB Alastair Roberts addresses this topic much more thoroughly, using natural law/creation order ethics as his foundation, which avoids all the cultural and interpretive mess found in this awkward piece.

    I remain agnostic.
    Please convince me.
    But it’s got to be better than this.

    • Hi Jez.

      To respond to some of your points/questions:

      1. Your responses use the word trajectory, which I didn’t (even though you put it in quotation marks – almost none of your quotations in quotation marks are actually quotations from my post.) I don’t claim a trajectory. I just state the history as it is, with varying responses from Christians to slavery arising from an underlying theoretical framework rooted in the fall. How could I claim a trajectory when I say England banned slave trading in 1102, yet then took it up again? How can there be a case for a post-Scripture trajectory on SSM when until the last few decades there has been no variation or shift in thinking or practice in this matter? What kind of a trajectory is that?

      2. The fact that slavery was permitted doesn’t change that it was regarded as a social evil. If it wasn’t, why would God have freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and then forbidden them from enslaving one another? Slavery is an undesirable condition in which to hold someone, one which people only inflict on their enemies.

      3. I didn’t go into the detail of the interpretation of the texts as this is not the place to do that. In making this statement I simply follow the standard and, until recently, universal interpretation of the texts (see Ian Paul’s Grove booklet on this).

      I can only assure you that it is not intended as a piece of bluff! It is intended as a succinct overview of why the two issues differ considerably in their relationship to scripture, tradition and natural law.

    • Ah, this is a much better (albeit much harsher) statement of what I was trying, and failing, to say above.

      My concern, like yours, is that Will’s argument is built on an appeal to history that cannot easily support it, even if the appeal of the ‘history’ here is in it’s turn to Natural law, which I think can. (does that makes sense?).

      I too am indebted to Alistair’s work on this. His blog is similarly excellent. Thank you very much Jez.

    • Are you really agnostic my friend, or as someone said in Genesis are you really trying to argue

      “Did God really say..”

      We can argue all we like but it is surely futile when Scripture is as explicit and unequivocal as it Is on this topic

      Leviticus 18:22, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”

      Leviticus 20:13, “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltness is upon them.”

      1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”

      Romans 1:26-28, “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. 28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.”

      or, to use a modern saying, “what part of NO don’t you understand?”

  5. Will:
    Some of my quotes are summaries of what you communicate. Most are actual quotes. In my haste I didn’t make the difference clear.

    Sincere apologies.

  6. You didn’t refer to ‘trajectories’ by name.

    But you said this:
    ” … the New Testament does not condemn the institution of slavery outright or give clear instruction to seek its abolition. However, its teaching on freedom and equality in Christ, on love for neighbour and enemy, and on the universal application of the moral law, contains the seeds of all the later movements throughout Christian history to suppress it, prohibit it and, ultimately, abolish it.”

    Later movements in history.

    For me, a good definition of a trajectory, without using that word.

    • I understand a trajectory to be a steady movement in one direction. I did not mean to imply, and hope that I did not convey, this to be the case with regard to Christianity and slavery. Within the broad framework of sin and the fall, responses varied throughout church history between more or less tolerance, until abolition eventually won through in the 19th century.

      • I’d argue that any movement beyond the simplest literal Biblical interpretation implies a trajectory, even if the process goes at different speeds in various eras, contexts and traditions. This multifaceted and multilocational process can look like it goes backwards at times when standing back and trying to view all church traditions as if they are one, going in unison.

        I think church history is messier than that.

        I think these trajectories take place within scripture on some issues (eg sacrifice) and continue post scripture on others (eg role of women in church life) but all of those issues imply ‘trajectory’ to me – but I guess that’s the problem with me using an undefined non biblical jargon term with no agreed shared single definition as a main part of my argument.

        To some degree I’d go along with a Peter Enns/Bruggemann type argument as well, that inspired scripture contains more than one voice on certain issues, with the midrash type dialogue being the Scriptural model, rather than having to reach a definitive single inerrant answer to all questions. If you take that perspective, then this attitude allows for trajectories, with different landing places in different traditions in different contexts throughout church history.

        [Thanks for keeping in dialogue despite my clumsy initial attempt.]

  7. “I didn’t go into the detail of the interpretation of the texts as this is not the place to do that.”

    If a blog post on a specific topic, coming to a clearly chosen conclusion, isn’t a place for detailed interpretive foundations, I’m not sure what is.

    It would have been helpful.

  8. In my desire for speed and succinctness I evidently came across as harsh and dismissive, as helpfully pointed out by Mat.

    Not intended.
    Again, sincere apologies.

    I didn’t so much mean to accuse you of bluffing as explain that to the undecided bystander who has read the ongoing debate, this is how it might look.

    My question about your Doctorate was curiosity, but read like a dig.

    Again, not meant.

    It seems my quick list of things I found careless in your piece contained even more carelessness on my part.

    Please don’t let that stop the dialogue. Next time I’ll be more careful rather than just being as fast as possible.

    Genuinely trying to figure this one out.

  9. Yes, thanks.

    I think that the NT linguistics on this are less concrete than has traditionally been taught, with some Pauline terminology being bizarrely unique in a culture steeped in same sex deviations and writing about such – I don’t go along with the argument that this was unknown in that world, but that makes his carefully manufactured wording, in a context of affluent abusive coerced relationships with young people, and cultic sexual promiscuity, even more noticeable and potentially culturally targeted.

    That genuinely does mean that arguably the NT doesn’t really specifically address contemporary consenting same sex committed relationships, as acknowledged by Preston Sprinkle in his excellent work advocating the traditional perspective, and Vines on the other side.

    I think that too much of the traditional view pays too much attention to the history of orthodoxy, and in so doing gets distracted from an attempt to solve the foundational linguistic and cultural issues in the NT, or to agree that they can’t be solved.

    In the end, I think this might need to be an issue where Christians and churches lovingly agree to differ but still stay in fellowship, as per women in leadership, rather than resorting to accidentally divisive attempts to solve the issue forever.

    I’d like to see openly affirming and traditional churches able to serve and evangelise their communities together, just as pro and anti women leadership churches do, traditional evangelical and charismatic churches do, and Protestant and Catholic churches do.

    These weren’t always the case, and involved a maturing process of relegating issues that once seemed insurmountable, into a less prime fundamental ranking.

    I’m just not convinced that the text of the NT is clearning enough to definitively end this debate, especially without widespread acknowledgement that the textual vocabulary leaves a lot more open to interpretation than has been taught.

    Hence my interest and my agnosticism.

    • Thanks Jez

      I respect that you and others are unconvinced by exegetical, linguistic, cultural, theological arguments either way, and you have clearly given considerable thought to the issues. But what of us who are decided – who see the issue very starkly – not as a disputable matter where fellowship and partnership in mission can continue. For us there is no ambiguity in the reading of Scripture and our understanding of the intent and order of creation. For us this is a question of orthodoxy, a primary issue, a gospel matter, a fidelity to Christ and his Word matter. How can we have fellowship and partnership in mission when there is a tear seemingly beyond repair?

    • Hi Jez. I’ll leave it to others to expound the finer points of New Testament Greek. My understanding is that there is little doubt that 1st century Jews held a general abhorrence of same-sex sex, an abhorrence rooted in scripture and in their understanding of natural law. It is this abhorrence that is reflected in the NT references to same-sex sex, and it is implausible that they would have regarded the prohibitions arising from this as limited in scope, whether allowing for a committed form or anything else. In any event, there is nothing to give us any reason to think certain forms of same-sex sexual relationship were acceptable in the New Testament, in the early church or in church history. There is also no reason to think that the biblical concept of marriage included same-sex relationships, and many reasons to think it didn’t.

      As to agreeing to differ, the problem here is when this involves changing doctrine, which it does in order to permit what supporters of SSM want. Questions of female ministers are not matters of doctrine or ethics, but of church order and so are not of the same kind or present the same acuteness of difficulty.

      • Ok, I’ll concede this …
        “Questions of female ministers are not matters of doctrine or ethics, but of church order and so are not of the same kind or present the same acuteness of difficulty …”
        … but only viewed at this place and moment in church history. Others have divided over that (and some still do), and in future others may choose not to divide over this.

        Time will tell.

        • ‘Questions of female ministers are not matters of doctrine or ethics, but of church order and so are not of the same kind or present the same acuteness of difficulty.’ Can someone explain why the place of women is not a fundamental issue of creation ordering and therefore containing rather more of the same difficulty?

          • Hi David.

            Because scripture does not state that women leading or being in ministry is a sin or contrary to the moral law. It also includes examples of women leaders. Any apparent prohibitions are stated in terms of ‘my rule’ and ‘I desire’, and Paul distinguishes his rules for his churches from the Lord’s commands; they are also distinguished from moral teaching. Hence its being a matter of church order. Much has been written on this, of course, but those are some of the basic points.

          • And yet if you google ‘is it a sin for a woman lead a church’ the first response you get back informs you that they can’t, that it isn’t biblical, and that a woman shouldn’t have authority over a man. This is based in creation order; Adam’s headship begins before the fall.

            Clearly I disagree personally with this approach to both the biblical interpretation and women’s ministry (I am fully in favour of equality) but let’s not pretend that simply asserting that it’s just a matter of church order makes it so. The objections are rooted in a doctrine of anthropology, and clearly to go against that would be sinful and so a matter of moral teaching.

          • Jonathan, I hate to break this to you, so I’ll be gentle …..Google isn’t actually any kind of authority (“Hard to believe, I know”, as Tony Hancock once said)

          • I know that Clive 🙂

            But it shows how easy it is find people who do think that scripture does state that women leading or being in ministry is a sin or contrary to the moral law. I am also old enough to remember the debates around the ordination of women in the Church of England, and how many argued against, saying that scripture clearly forbade it.

  10. Excellent article, you very effectively rebut the rather fatuously simplistic reading of Scripture that tries to equate views on sexuality with views on slavery. Slavery today in Britain is widespread and government sanctioned and is called “the Prison System”.

    • Peter I don’t think you have understood the comparison the is being made here. And the discussion either side of your post here suggest something anything but fatuous is debated.

      • I am wondering if some here in this helpful discussion have understood why those of us with an including theology of same sex relationships are interested in the place slavery occupies in scripture and church history. It is not a simplistic straight line – we have changed our mind on this so therefore we can change our mind on that. What these subjects have in common is that both challenge and change the way we read and interpret scripture.
        Those of us who argue in support of committed same-sex relationships from scripture have it regularly pointed out that those few texts that appear to name or describe same-sex sexual activity condemn it. That is true. But the first question to ask is: what is actually being condemned in those texts and why (so far as it is clear)? Only then can we meaningfully ask ‘what does this mean for us today’? And in context of same sex relationships that means asking ‘is this that’? Those of who support faithful same-sex relationships have asked this of the texts and are not persuaded ‘this is that’ and that the reasons for the prohibitions are to be found elsewhere. We are not therefore denying the plain teaching of scripture. We believe the task of clarifying what those texts are actually forbidding and why suggests a different understanding of what is being taught. That is what we are seeking to be faithful too.

        Conversely the significance of the place of slavery in the Bible is that there are no texts that explicitly, unambiguously condemn it as morally wrong and evil in the way the church today declares it to be. Indeed for much of church history the church has believed or at very least supported the opposite. Something has changed very dramatically and emphatically here in relation to what we believe the Bible teaches n this subject. Here too, fFor this change to happen, another way of approaching the ‘plain meaning’ of the texts must have been at work. No one today would dispute slavery is an absolute evil – but we are then vulnerable to the objection (as the abolitionists were) that the biblical text does not support us in this view. I find no way of softening this. We have therefore come this belief through a more ‘reflective hermeneutic’ (my phrase) – one which means accepting that at times the plain meaning of the text does not disclose the truest meaning of the Word – indeed it may mislead us terribly.

        I know many here will strongly disagree but I hope it briefly clarifies my own approach to this discussion.

        • Hi David.

          The church did not believe the opposite of slavery being evil, which would be that it was good. It was much more negative about it than that. You however do want it to believe the opposite of what the Bible says about same-sex sex, that what it says is sinful is virtuous. Can you see the problem?

          There is no indication in scripture that the prohibition on SSS is context dependent. There is also little doubt that 1st century Jews held a strongly negative view of all SSS and that that is what the prohibitions reflect. They were also never interpreted any other way. What you are asking for is contrary to the plain and received meaning of the text. It is also contrary to natural law as stated in scripture concerning the design of human beings as male and female.

          • Will ‘There is no indication in scripture that the prohibition on SSS is context dependent’. On the contrary conservatives and well as inclusive biblical theologians are both concerned this must be so. If you insist a text means exactly what it says that must be because you have done the hard work of exploring its original context. What out says and why it says it. A great deal in the lengthy debates – conservative and including – on this subject revolves precisely around understanding the importance of the background context. The context is vital if any text and its underlying concerns are to be faithfully interpreted.

        • Hi David,

          Thanks for articulating the affirming case so clearly. In terms of Will’s assertion that the scriptural prohibitions of same-sex sexual relationships not being context-dependent, you wrote: ‘On the contrary, conservatives as well as inclusive biblical theologians are both concerned this must be so’

          I have read some of your writing on the subject and I don’t think that you made out a strong case for the OT/NT context rendering the scriptural prohibitions inapplicable to today’s same-sex couples. Neverthelss, the CofE may eventually decide that the affirming case is persuasive enough to end the ban on clergy entering same-sex couples.

          As a comparison, the HoB declared that membership of the BNP or the National Front is incompatible with church teaching and that clergy would face disciplinary action for joining these organisations. It may be that, in the future, the Church relaxes its position on membership being incompatible with Church doctrine which clergy have a duty to uphold.

          To follow through on the example, Will’s point is that even if you make the case for ending prohibition, the theological case (scripture, tradition and reason) is still to be made for the Church to provide some sort of liturgy which represents the Church’s affirmation of membership of the BNP or National Front.

          So, returning to modern same-sex sexual relationships, even if you and others make the case for setting aside of scriptural (and, consequently, HoB) prohibitions as inapplicable due the difference in context, that argument per se doesn’t amount to making the case for the Church to teach that such relationships are consonant with scripture, tradition and reason and should be affirmed through Church liturgy.

          • David I pondered not replying to this. If you think a church that comes, though long, anguished but faithful theological debate, to accept and bless same-sex relationships, must be so unprincipled as to likely change its mind and support extreme racist groups – well words fail me!
            Quite apart from the context of slavery here …. do you really not know how Far Right groups have historically treated gay people? Not only is your comparison utterly disrespectful to fellow Christians who have a different view from yours – it is desperately insensitive.

            Please tell me I have totally misunderstood you here?

          • Hi David,

            So, do you see anything wrong with those here who affirm same-sex sexual relationships seeking to demonstrate significant similarities between 19C advocates of the butchery, known as slavery, and their fellow Christians, who simply interpret scripture differently?

            Alternatively, I could try to understand that the unsavoury comparison with slavery is not intended as a slur upon all conservative evangelicals and I’d hope that you’d similarly understand my Far Right example.

            It merely emphasises the principle that, even if the Church is eventually persuaded that same-sex sexual relationships are not prohibited by scripture, that does not make the case for the Church to affirm it through liturgy as consonant with its doctrine.

            If the argument from example is truly indistinguishable from the use of an unsavoury comparison, then why does comparing fellow Christians like me to 19C slavery advocates escape your censure? Why does that not arouse the same level of righteous indignation in you?

            Strange how fellow Christians like me are supposed to take on the chin the persistent attempts of the affirming members of the Church to liken us to 19C slavery advocates.

          • David S I think you are completely misrepresenting the discussion happening here. You sound very defensive. Where has anyone here compared you and conservative evangelicals with butchers and slave traders? You make this claim three times. I find it nowhere on this thread which has been courteous and positive and with some really thoughtful contributions from all sides.
            But your contribution above (28. 3.03 am) crossed a line for me and I stand by my response to you.

          • Hi David R,

            By the same token that you ask: ‘where has anyone here compared you or conservative evangelicals with butchers and slave traders’ (I actually used the phrase ‘the butchery of slavery’, I would ask you where did I even remotely assert that ‘a church that has comes, through long, principled theological debate, to accept and bless same-sex relationships must be so unprincipled as to likely change its mind and support extreme racist group’

            If you can find a single reference in my statement which implies that this would likely ensue, then, as a matter of honour, quote it here.

            The point (as you well know) is that, objectively, that making the theological case for the Church end its prohibition of anything it previously declared forbidden and liable to disciplinary action does not make the case for its affirmation through liturgy as consonant with Church doctrine.

            Oh, and concerning the Far Right’s treatment of gays, you should also be aware that I’ve had first-hand experience of that movement’s white supremacist attitude towards black people, like me.

            And I don’t expect you to retract your false accusation, despite there being no evidence that I presented this example as the kind of ‘slippery-slope’ argument that you insinuate that I am making.

            If you really think that I am remotely implying this, then you should call upon Uan Paul to ban me.

  11. Ok, but how do you decide which issues fall into that category?

    And how do you evaluate issues where there are valid alternative theological perspectives, even if you have a clear leaning?

    This is where I think the historic creeds are immensely wise, in defining extremely short lists of central tenets held across all traditions, and where the Acts Kerygma is helpful in agreeing the elements of the gospel to be proclaimed together.

    Adding in ethical and moral debatables seems to me to invite division in the church, and create confusion about our message for those outside of the Church.

    I’d argue that allowing even a strongly held conviction outside of credal and kerygmatic centrality to break unity, is to overestimate its place.

    • Thanks Jez, yes, this is the nub – how to decide when something in Scripture is disputable or primary? For me it is all inspired and authoritative, the question is what it is saying and what do I do? Speaking for myself, in the case of women in leadership, whilst I am obviously aware of the two negative prohibitive texts in 1Cor14 & 1Tim2, as well as the argument from silence (Jesus not appointing women as apostles) – I also see the positive scriptural arguments promoting women in leadership in various places: their being the first witnesses to the resurrection (apostolic?); recipients of the prophetic preaching Spirit at Pentecost (church is built on apostles & prophets) the equality texts such as Gal3, the women in leadership in Rom16 Junia, Priscilla, Phoebe etc So for me these clear positives can be weighed against the two seeming prohibitive texts in 1Tim2 & 1Cor14, texts which most recognise are complicated and some say downright contradictory to other things Paul says in the very letters in which they are placed. I don’t reject these texts because I don’t like them, but I think they demand careful study in their context, linguistics, culture etc and so must question them in making church doctrine directly from them. However, I do not think there is any real debate over the meaning of the words used to describe homosexual acts in the NT – the texts are all clear in condemning such acts and there are no counter positive texts to affirm homosexual union. Of course, I know some balk at this and try to interpret Paul as condemning pederasty or abusive forced sodomy, but Paul had other words if he wanted to make that point, and Rom1 is very clear that mutual reciprocal same sex is in Paul’s mind “burning with lust for one-another”…and he condemns such as sin. I wish he didn’t, but he does. And if I believe Paul writes the inspired authoritative word of God, I must chose to accept this.

    • Jez – yes, the historic creeds are glorious summaries of our faith – but not a Procrustean bed to which anything else in scripture may be whittled away as less important. The God who spoke through the prophets and will return to judge the living and the dead speaks through Scripture and will judge us on our response to his words there.

  12. Hi Simon,

    Just briefly… you say “I do not think there is any real debate over the meaning of the words used to describe homosexual acts in the NT” but if this is so, why are translations of 1 Cor 6:9 so varied across different bible versions? & how is it that sex between women gets only one possible mention in the entire canon yet those upholding current teaching treat male and female same sex sex equally?

    In friendship, Blair

    • On the first part, RE translation variance, I think I can give a general answer:

      Everyone brings some form of predisposition/agenda/bias to the work of translation. It is rarely an exact, or precise process, and differing ideas have to be held in balance. Even though most translators seek to avoid it, it is inevitable and expected that translations will differ on the emphasis they want, even when there IS scholarly consensus on meaning. Speaking generally Simon is correct about the consensus, but just because one exists it does not mean that it is A: unanimous or B: unchallenged. These are good things. Bear in mind there is a big difference between the understanding of a specific word, and the understanding of said word within the context of the wider passage/argument within which it is set. Here’s link to an article Ian wrote on more-or-less this idea:

      On the second part, RE female-female SSActivity, I think the answer is pretty simple, if not especially helpful. That is to say, activity wasn’t strictly considered ‘sex’, and proscribed as such, unless it was (or had the potential to be) penetrative; as this is what is expressly forbidden in relation to male-male activity. The ‘abomination’, of male-male sexual activity as discussed in the old testament is a specific reference to men lying with men ‘as they would with women’ (paraphrasing a much longer debate elsewhere), i.e, penetrative.


  13. Ian – have you blogged before on the comparison with the church changing its mind on usury? In terms of biblical preoccupations and mainstream church cultural blindness it can seem a thornier question.

  14. I am not sure your assertion that Christianity approved slavery “in certain circumstances” holds water.

    The Institution was overwhelmingly accepted, absolutely, plain and simple, until fundamentally challenged in principle from outside. Whether you entered it by birth, as a captive of war, or indeed submitted to it as a conscious regretted but necessary decision, based upon abject penury, made no difference. You must not confuse advice upon its moral practice with any moral queasiness about the legal religious and societal acceptance of the institution itself. Slavery was viewed as right and proper and no more questioned than female subjection.

    I am no feminist icon, but we should remind ourselves that slavery and alpha-maleness sat comfortably together. The Patrarch/Paterfamilias excercised the societal, moral and legal power, property rights, authority, right of punishment and both drew on the same theological context. Why would the Church have evolved a challenging theology for the first Millenium and a half?

    You blithely assert ” Yet now we know slavery to be always and everywhere wrong and contrary to the will of God.”

    How do we know that?

    More interesting and specific, are we smarter, more faithful, more Godly than Luther Aquinas, Calvin etc? Do we have scripture unavailable to them? They were as well versed in scripture as we are, is there a clue anywhere to explain how they missed your point that it was wrong all along?

    Take a look at your cited texts.

    They don’t actually confirm the modernist view of slavery, in fact they rather fortify the view of the 18th Century anti-Abolitionists. They don’t tell you slavery is in all circumstances wrong and anathema to the followers of Jesus. They tell you it’s wrong to enslave “people like us”! The rest can shift for themselves.

    NB Revelation 18:13 refers to slaves as ” souls” – but look what they are aggregated with – the “property”. That to the modern mind is not progress – it’s the problem, from which all the other evils derive. Galatians 3: 28 looks to the world to come – until then the slave must know his place. His slavery can be moderated but only in the same way that the ox should not be muzzled as it is treading out the grain. Do not confuse amelioration with liberation.

    Even when slavery was not permitted within countries between its citizens the law was not so clear when those acquired as property overseas were imported. I previously referenced Cartwrights case in England and that of Saint Josephine Bukhita in 1870’s Italy.

    One should not underestimate the influence of Aristotle and his understanding of “slaves by nature”. His thought was conscripted into the Church understanding when the occasion arose.

    You misunderstand the concept of Natural Law philosophy if you think it is rooted in scripture. It was understood within a broader classical context and world knowledge. Natural Law philosophy saw that in all known societies certain laws and institutions were observable. This included the prohibitions on murder and incest, and the institutions of marriage, private property and – yup! – good old slavery!

    “Go to the ends of the earth (our forebears reasoned) and there awaiting you, you will find cultures that all follow the same practices, even though we are only now taking God’s word to the poor benighted heathens. So how do they already know these things? How is that possible ? – easy it is evidence of God’s Natural Law which predates even the scriptures themselves.”

    Natural Law philosophy does not derive from the scriptures but obviously the two come to interact.

    So where does this leave us with slavery and more modern controversies.

    The historic slavery controversy is of value because it tells us what does not simply and of itself get you to the right answer.

    What we clearly agree upon is that Church Tradition of and by itself would not have got you to an answer which we would recognise as satisfactory and Godly.

    More controversially, I would say that you have not satisfactorily demonstrated that scripture would have got you there unaided. Specifically, you have not sufficiently demonstrated which scriptural texts were so misunderstood by theological giants of the past as to explain that they could have come to the right conclusion if only they had been blessed with our intrasystemic insights.

    “Intrasystemic” is a key point. If scripture infallibly gets you there, you have to work strictly within the logic rules of that narrow perspective. You concede there is no “killer text” to end slavery. We enter upon the slippery slope of “the arc of meaning”. Fine – but don’t tell me that has the same resonance and certainty as ” Thou shall do no murder”.

    So often, in modern debate we hear people asserting that “the scripture is plain”. I have yet to hear proponents of such positions explain how the mistake of supporting slavery was made so prolifically and on so sustained a basis ( overlooked by Aquinas et al ). If scripture is always so plain – what went wrong? An answer is required.

    I think you and I will agree that if one were to get into a game of “scriptural ping pong” over slavery, the Abolitionists would have run out of ammunition earlier than the traditional “bible based” proponents of the traditional apologia for the grim business.

    On that basis, one is entitled to say as we embark on other debates that no one perspective carries the day.

    This is why our Archbishop’s have shown deep wisdom and sensitivity in the way they have framed the terms of the upcoming debates.

    Of course you reference Church Tradition, of course you study the Scriptures – but they also flag up that Reason and Modern Scientific understanding also have an important role which cannot be ignored.

    In the slavery debate it took the rationalist sceptics of the Enlightenment to overturn the Established order and in doing so got closer to the liberating Christ of the gospels than many a learned textually expert theologian.

    Similarly “science” in its broadest sense assisted abolition; when slaves were portrayed as sub- human savages akin to beasts of burden, the published history of the freed slave Equinao Olaudo
    (Aka Gustavus Vassar ) showed and demonstrated the sophistication of the “other” as did the black genius violinist Thomas Blacktower ( for whom Beethoven originally wrote the Kreutzer Sonata). “Knowing” more, broadened narrow horizons and casts light on the texts. It still does

    The Famous Josiah Wedgewood plate portrayed the kneeling slave lifting his chains and urged ” I too am a man”. It was not biblical but surely more Christ like – and thus Godly – than some texts we might mention.

    Science will similarly enlighten our modern understanding of sexuality. What we shall make of “Natural Law” as we ponder the previously unsuspected gender fluidity of dolphins and the same-sex penguins who bond for life and often ‘adopt” orphaned and abandoned chicks on the ice flow will be an intriguing discussion.

    • Hi Martin.

      Thanks for responding so thoroughly.

      You ask If scripture is always so plain – what went wrong? Scripture and the natural moral law are plain. Christians held that slavery was permitted (in certain circumstances) as a result of sin and the fall. This meant they defended, within that framework, certain forms of slavery, even though they knew it was not part of the natural moral law or the perfect will of God. Eventually, however, the full implications of the natural moral law and the scriptural teaching on slavery overcame the allowances made for it in certain circumstances, and it was abolished. Earlier teachers felt they must defend it in certain forms, or at least not oppose it outright, because of its place in the social order and because it had always been permissible. However, the perfect expression of the moral law and of Christian principle was to abolish it, and that eventually occurred.

      I don’t know what you mean by scriptural ping pong. Scripture, and the natural moral law which it reinforces, are more than sufficient to oppose and abolish slavery. That is why they had been used to limit it, soften it, suppress it, and ultimately abolish it. I don’t know why you think that slavery was abolished through the pivotal influence of rational scepticism. The Enlightenment was mostly driven by rational people of faith – it was a very religious time (Oxford and Cambridge had Test Acts until the late 19th century, and many of the most prominent 17th and 18th century thinkers were religious people eager to demonstrate the reasonableness of religion). Slavery was brought down by a powerful movement of universalist natural law and natural rights, backed up by key scriptural principles. Scepticism (in the sense of eschewing Christian faith) had very little to do with it.

      ‘Science’ was also deployed copiously by defenders of slavery, of course. Racialist arguments were obviously novel, since the church, as a universal body, had never regarded one race as superior to another. In many ways, modern race ‘science’ overshadowed older wisdom about the basic equality of peoples before God.

      I too am a man is not a scriptural quotation, agreed. But the sentiment is obviously biblical, and grounded in the natural moral law.

      Natural law is not about observing the behaviour of animals and taking our ethics from it. We do not take our ethics from animals, who exhibit all manner of behaviours proper to their kind (and the natural world is also fallen). The natural moral law is about how God has designed human beings and the forms of life and conduct he has given as proper to his rational creatures. He created us male and female, for mutual attraction tending to marriage and to procreation for the continuance of the human race. To lack that natural attraction to the opposite sex in order to participate in that form of life is a result of the fall, not a part of God’s good creation. This is what the natural law teaches, and what reason and scripture confirm.

      • Will I am grateful to you for facilitating this discussion. Thank you.
        Can I ask you what you mean by ‘Natural Moral Law’ – which you assert alongside scripture as the basis for your argument. My follow on question would be to ask how you think this relates to Paul’s arguments from ‘nature’ and what is ‘natural’? Is this the same thing? Sorry if I missed this earlier.

        • Thanks, David.

          The natural moral law concerns how God has designed human beings and the forms of life and conduct he has given as proper to his rational creatures. This is the law which is ‘written on their hearts’ and to which conscience bears witness (Romans 2:15).

          Natural law is nature understood normatively rather than descriptively i.e. what is supposed to happen rather than what simply does happen, according to its underlying forms and principles rather than the ways these might falteringly manifest in the material world (i.e. with error, disease and dysfunction). It is found in Aristotelian and Stoic philosophy as ‘according to nature’, which is there defined by the Logos, universal reason, which appears in John 1 as the pre-Incarnate Christ. It is what is meant when someone objects ethically to something that it is ‘unnatural’ – though whether or not the thing actually is unnatural in an ethical sense requires careful examination. It is not merely about feelings and sentiments, though these can be some kind of pointer (albeit an unreliable one).

          The natural moral law is natural law as it relates to free human action and conduct. It is based on the idea that it is right to seek the good, where the good is defined in terms of the form and design which God has given the world, and human beings within that. It is closely related to the idea of rationality, reason and what we have reason to do.

          • So in summary, ‘natural law’ is the way I, or you, think God made the world.

            Which makes it, for all intents and purposes, useless for deciding this debate if we see things differently.

          • Hi Jonathan.

            No, natural law is the way God made the world. The aim is to discern what that is. The attempt to do that together is rational moral (and theological) discourse. You cannot dismiss this by simply claiming people disagree so the truth can’t be known. We have been made by God as rational creatures and it is part of our vocation to learn the truths about his world and live in accordance with them. This is inescapable. To claim the truth cannot be known is nihilistic. It also is not a Christian, or biblical, sentiment. As Paul said:

            For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. (Romans 1:19-20)

          • Hi Will, I’m happy with your adjustment about natural law (the way that God made the world). That still leaves us with problems when we disagree about natural law.

            In that sense, appealing to ‘natural law’ doesn’t help if I think you’ve got natural law wrong (or vice versa).

            You have appealed to natural law quite a lot. This is only convincing if I also agree with your view of natural law.

          • Jonathan, a further qualification. Natural law in this context is the way that Scripture claims that God made the world. So it is not simply about you or I (or Will) deducing from nature what we will.

          • Yes, scripture clarifies the natural moral law for the avoidance of doubt. As Christians we have been given special revelation to clarify (and augment) the general revelation to reason. For Christians, scripture and reason work together to reveal God’s will to us, not least the natural moral law.

            You say you don’t see how it helps when we disagree about it. My explanation here was a response to David asking what I meant by natural law. This is what I mean.

            A separate question is what to do when we disagree about it. The answer is: consult scripture together; think harder together and discuss the reasoning behind our positions; ultimately decisions must be made, for truth is one, and we must commit to an interpretation, for the sake of integrity. This includes any decision to permit latitude in an area of belief or practice – that too is a decision with ramifications for truth and integrity, it is not neutral. This is what authority is for, to make these decisions ultimately on behalf of a group.

            But the aim of (church) authority is to make decisions in accord with the best understanding of scripture and the natural moral law. That is the standard at which it must aim if it is to be rational and just.

          • Will, the trouble is I disagree profoundly with you about the ‘natural moral law’ in some areas. And I disagree profoundly with you about how scripture clarifies (or doesn’t) those areas. So you keep asserting that according to the natural moral law, the fundamental purpose of sex is procreation, and therefore same-sex sex is wrong. But…
            1) Nature has made sex pleasurable for humans. It clearly has other purposes beyond procreation.
            2) Most sex between humans does not result in children, and for many was not intended to result in children.
            3) Your stance would mean that all sex not able to result in procreation is morally wrong. This would include (heterosexual) oral sex, or using contraceptives, or infertile couples, or old couples.
            4) I don’t find procreation laid down as the purpose of sex clearly in scripture. In scripture sex seems to be emphasised as something that unites people, because it is not good for humans to be alone.

            In other words, I find your picture of what the natural moral law is in this situation completely wrong. Any appeals to ‘natural moral law’ will thus fail to convince.

            Elsewhere in this (ever-longer) thread, you say that both scripture and the natural moral law are plain on slavery. However, it is clearer and clearer that they are plain neither on slavery nor on sexuality.

          • Hi Jonathan.

            Sex has other purposes alongside procreation, but not beyond it. Its fundamental or inherent purpose i.e. the reason it exists in nature indicates the design of humankind as male and female for mutual attraction and constrains the contexts in which it is appropriate. Within that, sex has the purpose of strengthening the marital union i.e. the well-ordered (potentially) procreative relationship. Scripture confirms this conclusion of reason for the avoidance of doubt.

            Scripture is clear in key principles regarding slavery which imply it is contrary to God’s will and should be abolished when that is possible. But I accept that recognising that requires theological insight which cannot simply be read off the page.

            The issues are far from analogous, however, for all the reasons outlined elsewhere.

          • ‘Sex has other purposes alongside procreation, but not beyond it.’ Very Catholic theology, but I’m an Anglican. As I said, the logical result of this is that infertile couples shouldn’t marry, and contraceptives should be banned.

            ‘The reason it exists in nature’ – but same-sex attractions also exist in nature. What if there is some (as yet unidentified) genetic advantage to the human species in having a small percentage who are same-sex attracted? What if the human genome has evolved to ensure that some are gay and lesbians?

            ‘Sex has the purpose of strengthening the marital union’ – here I would agree with you, and wish to extend this to same-sex couples.

            ‘Scripture confirms this conclusion (well-ordered (potentially) procreative relationship)’ – no it doesn’t. And potentially is a weasel word. Infertile couples aren’t ‘potentially’ procreative. Either scripture allows couples who aren’t procreative, or it enjoins that they must be (as some Jewish traditions held).

            ‘Scripture is clear in key principles regarding slavery which imply it is contrary to God’s will and should be abolished when that is possible’ – no, scripture is not clear in this, otherwise expositors like Charles Hodge wouldn’t have defended it. The scriptural principle which cut through was the golden law.

          • The argument that if you accept infertile marriages you must accept same-sex marriages is obviously flawed. It is about their different relationships to the design of the human being and the nature of male and female. Procreation is the underlying explanation for what constitutes right ordering but the form of marriage is still available where nature has gone wrong and not permitted fertility.

            Scripture does imply abolition when it is possible. But it does require theological insight to see this, and many failed to see it because it had always been tolerated. There is no useful analogy with same-sex sex

      • Let me first explain “Scriptural ping-pong”. I will return on other matters.

        One of my greatest influences was a fine priest theologian who coined the phrase for what happens with a certain kind of Christian apologist who quotes a text and effectively rests on his/ her laurels as if ” the scripture is plain” is the end of the discussion and they have reached the logical summit with a text or two. If you quote a contrasting text you get another trite answer and so the game unfolds.

        Father Joe was a past master at “scriptural ping-pong” and could always get a return over the net as he schooled his pupils in the futility of the methodology!

        Father Joe also taught me that ” text without context is pre-text” and however people on this thread may disagree, most engage with that principle. We seem to be broadly agreed that a wider perspective was needed to overcome the “abomination of slavery”. A smash and grab raid on the scriptures was plainly not the way to do it.

        NB he did not ignore the scriptures but handled then carefully and with respect; similarly “scriptural ping-pong” is a poor substitute for mature debate in more modern contexts.

        Hence we should disavow it

        • Basil Mitchell (1990) also wrote an essay on ‘How to play theological ping-pong’, along similar lines.

          • Maybe that is where Father Joe got it from; be that as it may, could play the game whether the opponent was arguing from a a conservative or liberal position- usually with a pretty vicious top spin too!

  15. “Natural Law philosophy saw that in all known societies certain laws and institutions were observable.”

    You should be more careful. Natural law distinguishes between natural law (inherent in nature) and positive law (imposed by man). Slavery arose and was justified through positive law.

    “In the slavery debate it took the rationalist sceptics of the Enlightenment to overturn the Established order and in doing so got closer to the liberating Christ of the gospels than many a learned textually expert theologian.”

    This really isn’t true. Lots of Enlightenment philosophy went hand in hand with justifying slavery, racism, and colonialism (see Hume, Locke, Mill, Jefferson, Voltaire, etc.). Lots of enlightenment thinks had a vested interest in continuing slavery, either for personal or national reasons.

    • Sex and the sexes exist in nature for sexual reproduction. That is their fundamental purpose and the reason they exist in nature. Alongside that, they acquire in different contexts and species other purposes. In human beings the strengthening of the mutual companionship of marriage is a key additional purpose.

  16. If we look at plants and animals then sex seems to be for procreation. However I believe that humankind has overpopulated the world – morally procreation seems to be wrong. None procreative sex like homosexuality seems more ethical in our modern world.

    • HI Origen,

      The world may be overpopulated, but reproduction is aligned with the inclusive fitness of our species. And, even, in terms of individual fitness, this is an evolutionary priority for maintaining our overall genetic (allele) diversity. Genetic diversity is why human beings reproduce and it has an important role in buffering populations against epidemics.

      Since inclusive fitness is an average, ‘it will reflect the reproductive outcomes of all individuals of a particular genotype in a given environment or set of environments’.

      When compared to more costly efforts to perpetuate genetic diversity (which is crucial to the success of our species), it stands to reason that the majority of humans are other-sex oriented.

      In terms of the social aspect of these efforts, it also makes sense for human society to deploy inter-generational mechanisms (institutions, which maintain inter-generational meaning) to prioritise the types of sexual relationships that are naturally (and therefore more readily) capable of furthering the inclusive fitness of human society.

      This is prioritization is also underscored by the need to counteract the threat of inbreeding depression. Hence, we have prohibitions against incest.

    • Following on “What is sex for?” Perhaps we should look at what is sexual arousal? Sexual arousal in the male causes the penis to become engorged with blood and erect, in the female increased blood flow causes swelling in the clitoris and labias and spurs production of vaginal lubrication. Does this give a clue as to where sexual practice finds its natural home? Perhaps we should look at the anatomical facts about the human body first. I’m reminded of the Horse’s Teeth tale attributed to Francis (more probably Roger) Bacon if true.

      In the year of our Lord 1432, there arose a grievous quarrel among the brethren over the number of teeth in the mouth of a horse. For thirteen days the disputation raged without ceasing. All the ancient books and chronicles were fetched out, and wonderful and ponderous erudition such as was never before heard of in this region was made manifest. At the beginning of the fourteenth day, a youthful friar of goodly bearing asked his learned superiors for permission to add a word, and straightway, to the wonderment of the disputants, whose deep wisdom he sore vexed, he beseeched them to unbend in a manner coarse and unheard-of and to look in the open mouth of a horse and find answer to their questionings. At this, their dignity being grievously hurt, they waxed exceeding wroth; and, joining in a mighty uproar, they flew upon him and smote him, hip and thigh, and cast him out forthwith. For, said they, surely Satan hath tempted this bold neophyte to declare unholy and unheard-of ways of finding truth, contrary to all the teachings of the fathers. After many days more of grievous strife, the dove of peace sat on the assembly, and they as one man declaring the problem to be an everlasting mystery because of a grievous dearth of historical and theological evidence thereof, so ordered the same writ down.

          • Penelope – Of course, but to return to my question, what is the function of sex? Let’s not be mealy-mouthed about it, why do people love sex? They love it because it kicks into action all those body chemicals of dopamine, oxytocin and multiple other bodily effects that bring a high that is difficult to beat even by alcohol or other drugs, and that’s why people all over the world engage in it.
            It’s also why, given liberty people would want it whenever and wherever they were and any restrictions are seen as a restraint on their liberty. However if the function of sex is brought into the picture it becomes clear that it has a purpose other than just pleasure.

          • I didn’t say that sex’s function and purpose was purely pleasure. Simply that pleasure and intimacy and boding etc. are purposes as well as procreation

      • I think we are agreed then on the function of sex – which is pretty obvious after all. The concomitant pleasure, enjoyment, fun etc come as results but they are not purposes of sex.

        • No, I’m sorry I don’t agree. They are some of the purposes of sex. They are not, somehow, subordinate to procreation.

          • Penelope – Surely we can agree that the ejection of sperm and the reception by an egg is the basic reason why we have organs in our bodies with those functions and that they are called sexual organs. “Facts are chiels that winna ding, and downa be disputed” as Robert Burns said in “A Dream”

            Could we agree on an alternative example. The function of food is the sustenance of our bodies, without it we die. That is its basic function. However food also gives us great pleasure, but not to agree its basic function would be silly.

            I know you want to hold on to the fact that sex is more than its function – and I agree with that – but it is right to start at the basement with its function.

          • Mac: what is the purpose and/or function of stroking a cat or some other domestic pet? Have you ever done that.?

          • Hi Andrew – Oh indeed, I still miss our Golden Retriever dog. I presume you are a pet lover too. Did you agree with my last post in reply to Penelope?

          • Hi Mac: but you didn’t respond to the question. What is the purpose and/or function of stroking a cat or some other domestic pet? I think your answer to that might hep with me trying to understand your last in reply to Penelope.

          • Hi Andrew – It’s not difficult just the difference between function and purpose. The function of eating is the sustenance of our bodies but if I go out for a nice meal the purpose is probably enjoyment though it also fulfils the function (providing I don’t eat too much!)

          • Sorry Andrew I didn’t reply to your question about petting animals. Pleasure and tactile enjoyment.

          • This is, without doubt, the strangest sub-tangent on this post. Why are we talking about pets? How difficult is it to accept that which is plain:

            1. That sex (as an activity) is primarily, yet not exclusively, for procreation. Similarly, that being primarily the former doesn’t discredit any experience of the latter. It is too limiting to understand ‘sex’ as having only one dimension. People seem hung-up on arguing against polarisations no-one actually made…

            2. Any argument against SSM must necessarily include this argument (potential for procreation must exist, and should only exist, within marriage), but it cannot be based on it any critical-supporting sense, as this would invalidate the marriage of anyone who was not able to conceive, or did not wish to. Marriage expects procreation, but doesn’t require or obligate it.

            I think we are creating a false either-or here.

          • And is that a function or a purpose? You see I think the two can’t be entirely separated. The purpose and function of ‘making love’ is a physical union that reflects the love of God.

            At which point Will might say – although he might refrain from using these terms, but I think it’s what it boils down, to, SSS is a perversion and therefore can’t reflect the love of God. That’s the crux of this matter.

            Slavery is a perversion of proper human relationships. Homosexual relations aren’t a perversion. That’s why slavery has been made illegal, and why homosexual relationships have been decriminalised.

          • Yes, I agree Matt. Odd tangent about pets, maybe mine about food too. In the whole SSM debate there are entrenched positions that have a lot to do with emotion and self-understanding and it is often difficult to get into a position where we can hear each other and perhaps agree before we move on to the next part. Throwing fiery darts at each other will never help.
            I know that dealing with the function of sex (which ought to be a subject we agree on) can cause a reaction on those who think that that is going to be the beginning and end of the argument. Well let me say now that that is not my position at all. But if everybody can agree on the concrete blocks at the bottom of the building then we can move on to the next stage of building and discover our differences..

          • I’m not so much arguing the case either way at this point Andrew; rather I’m simply pointing out that the argument prior to this point wanted people (or seemed to want people…) to make a choice between a definition of ‘sex’ devoid of any procreative element, and one where the only legitimate goal of sex was procreative.

          • Matt – Yes some argue for a purely procreative role but that was not my argument. It is a reflection of “where is he going next?” so let me say again, that is not my view.

          • No problem Mac, I wasn’t explicitly taking issue with any one comment or person, I certainly wasn’t aiming my comment at you. 😉

            Your comment above, about us being in agreement in regards procreation as the ‘function’ of sex, is exactly right. What is frustrating is the diversion over ‘purpose’, and the separation of the two ideas. It is so because I don’t think either nature (or the Bible, to bring God back in) makes the distinction we are making.

            I think you are also right about the need to discover the building blocks, but I think the commentary across the whole of Psephizo demonstrates, nay, testifies to the clear difficulty of this.

          • The next step, if we are agreed on its function, would be “how should sexual behaviour relate to function?”. There will be different views on that from “it has solely to be in procreative mode” to “it doesn’t have to match function at all” – both are extremes of course but most people adopt a position somewhere in the middle. However there are multiple positions there.

          • Matt – Oh yes, there are multiple websites with this difficulty and more heat and less light doesn’t help. So as not to appear that I am hiding my own view behind my back let me try to express it this way.
            Sexual behaviour that most draws near to the function of sex rings a harmonious resonance as function and practice corroborate each other. Sexual behaviour that gets further and further away from the function of sex loses the resonance of its functional intention.

          • Indeed.

            Now we’re just agreeing the terms of the debate though, rather than actually debating anything. I humbly suggest we cease adding to this already lengthy aside.


    • Origen – I’m obviously not getting the way the website functions but my comment about a step forward is meant to be in reply to you. We seem to agree then that homosexuality is bending sex from its function.

    • Hi Origen.

      There may be a problem with global over-population, in the sense of long-term sustainability of the ecosystem. However, for Western society the more immediate problem is a low birth-rate which is below the rate of replacement. This means that Western peoples, and with them Western culture, civilisation and values, are currently on track for severe weakening in the world over the next couple of generations, and in the long term disappearance. This suggests that excessive reproduction is not a problem for Western peoples, even if it is for other places.

      Having said this, ethics isn’t just about long term consequences for particular people groups – though they are important.

  17. Good article.

    In the current debate concerning marriage, some have said that Christianity supported slavery until the anti slavery movement from the 1700s on. This is historical nonsense. Early Church Fathers repeatedly saw Paul’s instruction that “in Christ there is neither bonds (slavery)… as clearly undermining slavery.

    Augustine of Hippo opposed slavery by observing that it originated with human sinfulness, rather than the Creator’s original just design of the world which had initially included the basic equality of all human beings as good creatures made in God’s image and likeness.

    St John Chrysostom, (born in the first half of the 300s AD, described slavery as ‘the fruit of covetousness, of degradation, of savagery … the fruit of sin, [and] of [human] rebellion against … our true Father’, in his Homilies on Ephesians. Chrysostom preaching on Acts 4:32-4:33 in a sermon entitled, “Should we not make it a heaven on earth?”, stated, “I will not speak of slaves, since at that time there was no such thing, but doubtless such as were slaves they set at liberty…

    Chrysostom, Patriarch of the Church, Contantinople, increased the number of Hospitals & schools, the most popular preacher of his time, concentrated on expositions of scriptural text. Among his statements opposing slavery are the following: “Slavery is an abomination. It is quite wrong that one person can buy another, and that such a purchase has the protection of the law. A person does not even possess his own life, so how can he possess another person’s life?”

    Saint Patrick (415-493), himself a former slave, argued for the abolition of slavery, as had Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-394), and Acacius of Amida (400-425).

    Saint Eligius (588-650) used his vast wealth to purchase British and Saxon slaves in groups of 50 and 100 in order to set them free.[48]

    Augustine of Hippo taught that slavery is never a “natural” condition but one that has arisen as the result of sin. He argued that the institution of slavery derives from God and is beneficial to slaves and masters. However, he also characterized the granting of freedom to slaves as a great virtue. Augustine described slavery and private property not as the creations of God but of sin.

    The Early “Church Fathers”:
    – Demetrios Constantelos: Many monks contributed much toward a more just and moral society. From the ranks of the monks emerged the earliest condemnation of slavery.
    – Gregory the Theologian, bishop of Nazianzus first, and later Patriarch of Constantinople, denounced the practice of holding slaves.
    – His friend Basil of Ceasarea did not favor it but tolerated the institution as an established evil.
    – Their contemporary Eustathios of Sebasteia condemned slavery and even advocated revolts by slaves.
    – Later in the eighth and early ninth centuries, Theodore the Studite denounced slavery and forbade monks to possess, and the monastery to employ, slaves. In his rules for the hegoumenos of the Studios Monastery, Theodore advised: “You shall not possess a slave either for your own use or for your monastery or for the fields, since man was created in the image of God.”
    – Eustathios, the twelfth century monk, archbishop of Thessaloniki, and critic and reformer of monasticism, condemned slavery as an evil and unnatural institution and advocated manumission.

    Christian Faith and Cultural Heritage: (Essays from a Greek Orthodox Perspective, p. 162.)
    Symeon of Thessaloniki (+ 1429), in various questions set forth by the bishop of Pentapoleos Gregory, was asked the following question: “Which is more important and valuable, to help in the release of a captive or to distribute an amount to ten poor people?” Symeon’s position indicates the care of the Church which often emphasized the duty of Christians to liberate captives and slaves.

    The Byzantine community did not simply pray for “the captives and for their salvation” as one of the petitions of the Divine Liturgy says, but it offered what it could towards purchasing their release by often paying large sums.

    From “Poverty, Society, and Philanthropy in the Late Mediaeval Greek World”

    Sadly under social & economic influences the Church has often departed from her biblical, Christian values. At such times results are no longer Christian but a syncretism between the Church attenders & the secular world applying pressure. This is a great tragedy as the values of peace, truth & love espoused by Jesus are eclipsed by the evil of supply & demand.

    • Anon this is helpful thank you – but the question is where in the Bible they based their conviction that ‘Slavery is an abomination’ – an interesting word in the wider context of this debate!

      • David, this is a very acute question and links to my point insisting our most literalist friends to find their answers “intra-systemically”.

        • Martin, please desist from using dismissive and inaccurate terms such as “literalist friends”. It is difficult to work out what you mean but I suspect more accurate terms like “faithful orhtodox Christians” stick in your throat too much.

          • Clive There are ‘faithful orthodox Christians’ who do not take all the bible literally. I find the word is quite clear in its meaning. Martin did say ‘most literal …’ so I understood him to mean those who are most likely to read texts literally.

          • David, there are virtually no Christians who take the Bible literally, it is largely a fake nomenclature said to put others down.

          • David R, in my chapter in What Are they Teaching The Children, I find 18 things wrong with the idea that we should all take ‘the Bible’ metaphorically rather than literally. All 27 NT books are written in literal genres (letters, non-fiction narratives) as you’d agree. Revelation uses similes etc but he is writing that things he saw literally looked like something. I cannot find a single one of the 66 or 73 books that is in a metaphorical genre. Not that there are many metaphorical *genres*. Song of Songs is packed full of metaphor (Song of Songs is the only book where metaphor is remotely so omnipresent and it constitutes less than 1% of the Bible) but its genre is not a metaphorical genre, just its content is metaphorical.

            When one makes these points people tend to respond unthinkingly ‘Oh but you are only saying that because you personally prefer the literal.’ 3 things wrong with that. One: no, I don’t. Two, how would you know better than I even if I did prefer it. Three: irelevance and the Bulverism fallacy.

          • Christopher – Thank you for introducing me to a new term “Bulverism”. Trust C.S. Lewis to nail something that is so often used today.

          • If we simply devoted ourselves to study of Lewis and Chesterton, we would not solve all the problems, but we would make enough progress to last a lifetime. Goodness knows where Lewis got the term from. In the original it seems to be a completely random coinage.

    • Anon, could you please provide some sources for your quotations? In particular, I do not recognise the one attributed to John Chrysostom ‘slavery is an abomination…’, and would be grateful to be able to track it down.

    • Anon, Thank you for this additional material which is interesting but nevertheless a “mixed bag”.

      Plainly there was accommodation amelioration and condemnation in the early Church. Yet this does not get to the heart of the problem on various levels. Adultery was disapproved; adulteresses were sanctioned. Adulterers (male) were less harshly condemned historically. Yet where is the comparative outrage towards the slave owner? He is encouraged to commit his sin in a more seemly fashion.

      It gets worse.

      For surely what we see here is the Catholic Orthodox position engaging with the distasteful aspects of slavery but somehow it goes wrong. In practical and economic terms it comes with the transatlantic slave trade – to a degree ” out of sight out of mind” but the theological apologetics harden, often on the other side of the Atlantic, as Jonathan Tallon demonstrated in the threads of the preceding post.

      What has happened?

      Rather discomfortingly for my more ” Bible based ” friends, the detachment of those who began as dissenters from the European Church traditions to which you rightly refer, leaves them open to develop a text based appoach and from there, there is ample opportunity to weave together a theology that supports slavery from that perspective.

      If anything your post supports the view that the more you gravitate to your own textual analyses the more you make scripture in your own image. That surely is where things took a turn for the theological worse.

      • Martin, there is no doubt that most theology pre-abolition supported slavery in some form. That is not in dispute. The point is how it supported it and why and how that related to the natural law, and thus how it related to abolition, and why this does not provide any assistance for those seeking to affirm SSM. If anything it does the opposite, as it was about ceasing to tolerate conduct that was not part of the natural law but a result of sin. If anything, this counsels against tolerance for same-sex sex, not in favour.

        • Will, first let us see if part of our disagreement stems from our using the term “Natural Law” in different and perhaps contradictory senses.

          Does this make sense? …..

          You think of Natural Law very much in a strictly defined scriptural sense – to you it denotes only that aspect of God’s creation congruent with God’s revealed plans through the Bible.

          To me It has a wider meaning; so, like pre Christian thinkers, I see and accept how scientific observation within the natural world might speak of God’s intention. Thus my point about incest being universally condemned can establish a perceived ” Natural Law ” without reference to Biblical text. This is not an invention of my own but is well established in the field of legal Jurisprudence in which I have my background.

          I think mine is the more objectively helpful usage because it denotes something additional and separate from scripture. Insofar as you place Natural Law only within a biblical context it seems to me to be a subset rather than an independent source – does that define our positions fairly?

          I turn to other aspects which are related.

          I point to observations of the natural world which suggest that sexual behaviour is not as binary as you suggest. You cannot view that as in accordance with “Natural Law” – observed independent of scripture – others can.

          Equally, you can only explain those natural world observations within the Genesis framework, but it presents a somewhat bizarre – almost Monty Pythonesque – outcome.

          Adam fell – so… gay penguins!


          I thought Church doctrine was that animals are not moral beings, and thus not morally responsible beings? If male bonded penguins care for abandoned chicks I see positivity not sin.

          I treat Genesis seriously but not literally.

          Returning to slavery I think you may have inadvertently constructed a theology of gay marriage – and I write as one who would not have voted to redefine marriage.

          Paul tells us it is better to marry than to burn; celibacy is best ( perhaps reflecting a pre-fall absence of sexuality? ) but if one cannot deny one’s sexuality, then let it be constrained within the institution of marriage.

          Slavery you acknowledge, is similarly not in accordance with God’s will but as you say the Church compromised and accepted and encouraged the adoption of a constrained form. It is perilously close to “Sin responsibly” – is it not?

          So for centuries it was biblically acceptable for you to exercise domination over the slave in a variety of ways, making him/her do uncongenial work, regulating their diet, beating but not maiming, selling their spouse or children, and delivering them into the hands of a less constrained/ benevolent master for a good price.

          All this we have seen approved by the Church we follow and not least approved by Paul and a host of saints and theologians.

          Yet if the master loves the slave, bonds with him and expresses that physically THAT is utterly disordered and offensive? Did we swallow the camel but choke on the gnat?

          We lawyers have our own “Golden Rule” when it comes to interpreting Statutary texts. It says that you apply the rule to the point where it begins to yield absurd results. I fear that the way our exploration of slavery has turned out, we are fast approaching that point.

          • Hi Martin.

            Here’s what I wrote in comments above about the natural law:

            The natural moral law concerns how God has designed human beings and the forms of life and conduct he has given as proper to his rational creatures. This is the law which is ‘written on their hearts’ and to which conscience bears witness (Romans 2:15).

            Natural law is nature understood normatively rather than descriptively i.e. what is supposed to happen rather than what simply does happen, according to its underlying forms and principles rather than the ways these might falteringly manifest in the material world (i.e. with error, disease and dysfunction). It is found in Aristotelian and Stoic philosophy as ‘according to nature’, which is there defined by the Logos, universal reason, which appears in John 1 as the pre-Incarnate Christ.

            The natural moral law is natural law as it relates to free human action and conduct. It is based on the idea that it is right to seek the good, where the good is defined in terms of the form and design which God has given the world, and human beings within that. It is closely related to the idea of rationality, reason and what we have reason to do.

            Scripture clarifies the natural moral law for the avoidance of doubt. As Christians we have been given special revelation to clarify (and augment) the general revelation to reason. For Christians, scripture and reason work together to reveal God’s will to us, not least the natural moral law.

            I assume that general revelation (to reason, through nature) and special revelation (through God’s actions in the world, recorded in scripture) are consistent, since they come from the same one true God.

            On your more specific points:

            You seem incredulous that the fall has affected nature. But surely the imperfection and dysfunction of nature is abundantly evident? It is subject to disease and dysfunction as much as human beings are.

            Human moral categories don’t apply to animals. Animals display all kinds of behaviours proper to their kinds, some of which may correspond in some way to good human behaviours and some of which do not. In any case, animals are not aware of the moral law and are not attempting to conform themselves to it. They just are what they are.

            To take your example. A pair of male penguins can bond and raise orphan chicks. Does this tell us anything about how to raise human children? No, because human beings have their own set of needs arising from their nature as rational creatures. In particular, human beings need a mother and a father (and wherever possible their own mother and father).

            The reason natural law rules out same-sex sex is because it is contrary to the design of human beings and the fundamental purpose of sex. The purpose of sex and the sexes in nature is sexual reproduction – that’s why they exist in nature. From this, and from the respective anatomies of male and female, it is clear that same-sex attraction is misaligned with anatomy and with the fundamental purpose of sex and sexual attraction. Confirmation of this observation are the various risks and co-morbidities which statistically accompany same-sex sex and same-sex attraction.

            Celibacy is (arguably) best only within the eschatological framework of the New Covenant, and anyway is a gift. Marriage is approved by God, and a figure of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:32). Slavery is not approved by God and the New Testament does not say so. Your attempt to draw a parallel between scriptural attitudes to slavery and to marriage suggests a lack of grasp of what the Bible says about each, and a very selective reading of texts.

          • Will
            You rightly observe Paul teaches celibacy is a gift. No judgment attaches to those who cannot embrace it. The creation default setting is still that it is not good for humans to be alone. The context at Corinth is all about living in readiness for the Day of the Lord – therefore seen as a short term provision before the Lord comes.

            Earlier in my ministry I wondered if I was called to celibacy but over time realised I wasn’t. But marriage was always I choice I could make, a vocation I could seek. I see no biblical mandate to impose celibacy on certain people while still teaching them it is not good to be alone. I am not surprised if they find this unsustainable.

          • Hi David.

            There is no doubt that the situation of a person who does not have the gift of celibacy but who considers himself unable to marry is tragic. On that we can all agree. In many ways that is why we no longer support legal bans on same-sex sex.

            However, the tragic is often part of life in this fallen world, and it does not justify transgressing the moral law. Legal leniency is one thing. The church’s teaching on the moral standard in sexual ethics is another.

          • Will I am finding your reference to moral law when I think you mean ‘what the Bible teaches’ rather confusing. But others have challenged your use of that phrase.
            ‘Legal leniency is one thing. The church’s teaching on the moral standard in sexual ethics is another.’The church’s teaching is what we are discussing of course. And on a number of other significant issues in its history the teaching of the church has adapted and changed.

          • Hi David.

            I’ve explained this a few times. The natural moral law is something independent of scripture, inherent in the design of creation and of humankind, and knowable by reason. It is the law written on our hearts (Romans 2:15). Scripture confirms it for the avoidance of doubt – the two are consistent.

            The church’s teaching adapts, but never contrary to scripture or the moral law (unless it errs of course).

  18. What of Christians who reject your chosen axioms, Will? This is an argument by evangelicals, for evangelicals.

    I could dispute your conclusions within the terms of your framework (I’m not at all convinced that the Bible condemns slavery as strongly as you claim), but will instead accept them arguendo, ’cause, I don’t hold to your beliefs in biblical authority and natural law, it doesn’t matter to me whether you’re right about this.

    In a broad church, many Christians will simply say, “On this, the Bible’s a product of its time, and is simply wrong.” Why should your view be imposed on theirs? If your not arguing that it should, then however convincing it is on its own terms, it offers no solution to the wider issue. Ecclesiology’s its own thing.

    • Hi James.

      If you don’t believe in the authority of scripture or in a moral law inherent in nature and knowable by reason (which is all the natural law is) then how will we even start to have a rational discussion about ordering our lives according to the revelation of God in scripture and in creation? What is your authority?

      But since the Church of England does place itself under the authority of scripture and of reason, my argument would seem to have some application there, too.

      • Hi Will, thanks for the speedy reply. 🙂

        My position’s standard liberal theology. I don’t go by authority (arguments from it are a fallacy for good reason), but by evidence interpreted by reason. I certainly see no argument for making flawed authors from 2,000 years ago or more (people ignorant of knowledge we now take for granted) God’s mouthpieces. Since you’ve a doctorate in philosophy and diploma in theology, you presumably know the liberal position at least as well as I do!

        Whatever the canons say, reality’s that the CoE’s a broad church, with Catholic, evangelical and liberal strands. Plenty who do believe in biblical authority use a very different hermeneutic, or read verses differently. Since interpretation’s inherently subjective, authority won’t solve what is, ultimately, a political question.

        Politically, since imposing the view you outline here’s a non-starter, how should the CoE, and wider Anglican communion, go forward?

        • Hi James.

          If you’re not even trying to show how your position is consistent with scripture in any sense then you’ve surely placed yourself outside of theological discourse which the Church of England, which places itself under the authority of scripture, can accept. There are liberal approaches to the Bible, and then there’s simply not caring what the Bible says at all. In any case, surely your position just confirms the charge of orthodox Anglicans that at stake in this issue is the authority of scripture?

          In terms of reason and evidence – the natural moral law is just the moral law inherent in nature which reason is attempting to apprehend. Unless you’re a non-realist about morality it’s kind of a necessary belief. Otherwise where do you think morality comes from, what makes a moral claim true or false?

          • Will, if I’m outside Anglicanism, then so too are a good chunk of theologians taught in English seminaries, whose work you must surely have studied in great depth? This horse bolted at least around the time Essays and Reviews was published!

            Even if I am outside Anglicanism, the desire for LGBT equality isn’t, and isn’t going anywhere, however the Bible’s interpreted. That being so, how d’you believe that that the communion should move forward on this?

          • As for natural law, ethics aren’t falsifiable in the way that scientific questions are. We make the best ethical choices we can based on the evidence available. What’s yesterday’s “natural” (slavery’s justified, women unsuited to politics) is today’s unnatural. Given that ethics inferred from nature must be filtered through our flawed human perceptions, even if they exist, we can’t be sure what they are.

            Probably superfluous me saying all this, since, as a philosopher, you’ve doubtless argued it in far greater depth, and from all sides, but that’s my own position.

          • Even if we can’t be sure, we have to make our best judgement of what the moral law is that God is communicating to us through reason and revelation.

            The reason natural law rules out same-sex sex is because it is contrary to the design of human beings and the fundamental purpose of sex. The purpose of sex and the sexes in nature is sexual reproduction – that’s why they exist in nature. From this, and from the respective anatomies of male and female, it is clear that same-sex attraction is misaligned with anatomy and with the fundamental purpose of sex and sexual attraction. Confirmation of this observation are the various risks and co-morbidities which statistically accompany same-sex sex and same-sex attraction.

            These observations of reason and science are confirmed by revelation in its ban on same-sex sex, a ban which tradition has consistently upheld.

            So in this case our best judgement is clear. Those who wish to change it should either accept that it isn’t going to change or go and set up a new church which incorporates the new teaching.

          • Except, as we both know (and the biblical authors didn’t), Homo sapiens evolved, it wasn’t “designed” as a potter designs a pot. Why some people are “same-sex attracted,” or gay, to use their preferred term, we don’t know, but they are. That orientation’s not a moral question, simply a biological reality. Here, appealing to nature’s not only a fallacy, it’s a self-defeating fallacy!

            As for the ethics of its expression, health’s a weak argument. Lesbian sex is healthier than straight sex, and heterosexual sex is plenty risky without precautions. Without going into inappropriate detail, we know enough to mitigate health risks. And as several psychological associations have noted, denying LGBT people affirmation imposes health risks of its own. Another self-defeating argument.

            Regardless of what you may prefer, LGBT people who reject lifelong celibacy aren’t gonna leave the church, they’re gonna stay and fight for change. That being so, accepting the situation as it is, not how you might like it to be, how would you suggest the church move forwards?

          • James asks ‘accepting the situation as it is, not how you might like it to be, how would you suggest the church move forwards?’ That is indeed the question. What, James, do you suggest???

            What you call a broad church is actually a divided polarised church. What some call good and would bless others call sin. What you call ‘flawed authors from 2000 years ago ignorant of what we now know as knowledge’ others believe the inspired infallible living Word of God and final authority on all matters pertaining to faith. So how do we move forward when we have a different authority and a different gospel. Karl Barth saw that ‘ethics test dogmatics’. The diametrically opposed ethics in the CofE show we have a very understanding of God and his ways, of discipleship and of church. Can we find agreement? Not if one’s primary authority source is Inspired Scripture and the other party places Scripture on a procrustean bed of so called Reason. James, we are not moving forwards but apart. Synod have shown where they put their weight in debate, not where the Evangelicals and orthodox stand. Is it time to call in the canon lawyers and settle this thing?

          • James, SSA is not a biological reality but a psychological condition. So are many things which are disordered, and biology can be dysfunctional too. I have explained the difference between nature as descriptive and as normative. There is no fallacy involved.

            Just because humanity evolved that doesn’t mean it wasn’t designed. You do believe we were created by God don’t you?

            If the church follows your pattern it will lose all sense of what it believes in and stands for.

            My suggestion is still the same: the bishops should take the lead and insist on orthodoxy, and those who want a different teaching should find or start a different church. Accommodation is already at its limits.

          • Hi James,

            You wrote: ‘And as several psychological associations have noted, denying LGBT people affirmation imposes health risks of its own. Another self-defeating argument.

            Here, it’s important to articulate exactly what the psychological associations have explained about affirmation: ‘Although affirmative approaches have historically been conceptualized around helping sexual minorities accept and adopt a gay or lesbian identity (e.g., Browning et al., 1991; Shannon & Woods, 1991), the recent research on sexual orientation identity diversity illustrates that sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual orientation identity are labeled and expressed in many different ways, some of which are fluid (e.g., Diamond, 2006, 2008; Firestein, 2007; Fox, 2004; Patterson, 2008; Savin-Williams, 2005; R. L. Worthington & Reynolds, 2009.

            It’s on the basis of this diversity of sexual expression that the APA further states: ‘We define an affirmative approach as supportive of clients’ identity development without a priori treatment goals for how clients identify or express their sexual orientations.’

            ‘Thus, a multiculturally competent affirmative approach aspires to understand the diverse personal and cultural influences on clients and enables clients to determine (a) the ultimate goals for their identity process; (b) the behavioral expression of their sexual orientation; (c) their public and private social roles; (d) their gender roles, identities, and expression; (e) the sex and gender of their partner; and (f) the form’

            The professionally recommended affirmative approach helps people to explore how their orientation is expressed through behaviour, instead of merely helping the same-sex attracted to accept and adopt a lesbian, gay or bisexual identity.

            This may include supporting a person (such as someone in a heterosexual marriage, who experiences same-sex attraction) in their goal of adopting a sexual identity and behaviour which is congruent with the
            principles and teachings of their faith.

            Now, that’s not self-defeating at all.

  19. Good points, but the biggest problem in the US concerning Bible-believing people who insist that God finds LGBT folks abominable first of all do not understand that the acts that God finds deplorable are those that occur when people are being used and abused. The activities are abominable while God still loves each and every person, sinner or Saint.

    Beyond that, there are still pulpits in the US where you can hear preaching that defends slavery and white supremacy . . . pastors who serve churches full of KKK members, and “believing Christians” who only judge and condemn, but do not extend the love of the Gospel to anyone outside of the small group of people with whom they fellowship.

    Certainly one of the most important points is that scripture is sometimes temporal and sometimes eternal. Just as the Bible has collections of various types of literature that in some places chronicle historical events and experiences that no longer have validity in our times, there are also new and different ways that people relate to God in Christ today as individuals and as ethnic groups or communities of faith.

    So, all in all, the most important thing to me is to keep trusting the Holy Spirit for continuing revelation and to work in us as beloved children of God and in the world. When we choose to stay on the side of Love, we won’t lose.

  20. Well, the least healthy and most harmful turn in this debate was when those who are conservative on the issue started asserting that homosexuality was a ‘first order issue’. You see well-respected conservatives arguing that people will be dammned for having gay sex, or that scripture is so clear that even to dissent and disagree is to sin knowingly. I’d say that there are a fair few Christian’s whose personal moral choices about how they spend their money, treat other people, or behave politically I regard as ‘first order issues’. However, I am STILL content to be in a church with them, and I believe the Anglican church ought to find a liberal way of accommodating disagreement and disapproval. I do think we ought not to have a church where people believe God is evil, or other extreme heresies, but make something like sexuality a core issues is a very damaging conjuring trick. The way to move forward is not to impose a blanket policy which accords with the wishes of the majority. The two ‘camps’ may not be equally sized, but they are both too big to make consensus a realistic or reasonable requirement. The church needs not to have a party line, but to acknowledge disagreement and allow parishes to make their own minds up on the issue.

    • Perhaps a point of distinction, if I may.

      It is not that SSM by itself is a ‘first order’ issue; there are (I would contest) very few people arguing explicitly for that. The ‘first order’ issue that has got so many ‘conservatives’ angry/frustrated is the attitude towards scripture that characterises a significant amount (if not the entirety) of the argument for change.

      SSM is not a first order issue, but Scriptural Authority is! Clearer?

      I used to be part of a church that was openly (and, perhaps defiantly) complimentarian, where there were no female elders/ministers. I subsequently changed my mind on this, being persuaded more strongly by the biblical arguments for Egalitarianism*. This put me in the minority in that church, but I never considered leaving it. While I disagreed, sometimes intensely, I felt, and still do feel, that both cases were made for the right reasons, from the right sources and with the right motive (a desire to be faithful to Scripture/Tradition).

      My position on female leadership was never a ‘first order’, but if the church had thrown out the baby with the bathwater in order to justify its position, it would have been…..


      • This is why I find myself in a strange place in relation to James Byron’s comments. I both;

        ….agree intensely that this is an argument “by evangelicals, for evangelicals”, and so I accept and agree with James’ assessment that it is unlikely to convince anyone from a different strand of thought within the CofE (and there are many). To a strong degree this is preaching to the converted.

        …and disagree, equally intensely, on so much else, e.g. that there remains hope for the ‘broad church’ approach (I don’t think so), that SSA is a ‘biological reality’ (disputable), or that ethics are inherantly subjective and have nothing external to appeal to. etc.

        In a way, James’s reaction (and this is not meant as a criticism) shows just how large the gulf between the two opposing viewpoints can be. I would argue, and have done in the comments elsewhere on this blog, that this gulf is insurmountable….

        • Criticize away, Mat! If I dish it out, I sure better be prepared to take it. 😀

          I agree that there’s a gulf (chasm!) between affirming and traditional views. I’m obviously coming at affirmation from a liberal perspective, but given the comments of Dr. Jones and others, the gap’s at least as great for those who seek to affirm from an evangelical, Catholic, or moderate position.

          Will Jones isn’t close to being a out-of-touch fundamentalist: judging by his piece here & responses, he’s a thoughtful and open minded scholar, and his credentials in both theology and philosophy are formidable. Yet even a young scholar such as him apparently sees no way in which affirming gay relationships can be compatible with Anglicanism. If he’s representative of the next generation of evangelicals, what hope is there for the church avoiding schism?

          (As for relativism, if you mean “anything goes,” I’m no relativist; if you mean that I view a position as an imperfect construct relative to its time and the perspective of the person holding it, guess I am.)

          • (As for relativism, if you mean “anything goes,” I’m no relativist; if you mean that I view a position as an imperfect construct relative to its time and the perspective of the person holding it, guess I am.)

            I am not explicitly accusing you of being a relativist because there is a clear attempt from you to appeal and argue from the same basis as everyone else. While we might hold a different view on the authority of scripture, and have different ways of handling it, we do at least share scripture as part of the ‘battleground’ on which these debates are fought (or even the main one), and we share much of the same terminology. The relativism that concerns me most is not the doubt/questioning of an external authoritative source, but the destruction of one.

      • To be clear, I am not meaning to accuse James explicitly of ‘moral relativism’, but I am meaning to imply that that is where I think his position is headed. I know he’d disagree. *wink*

      • I wish I could believe that this is the case. However, anytime anyone offers any biblical arguments for same-sex marriage (using similar methodology to that used with slavery, usury and women’s leadership), they are cast out of the fold of ‘true’ evangelicalism. The attitude towards scripture doesn’t seem to matter.

        There’s precedent for this, of course, in the slavery debate, where those in favour of slavery fought for it (literally) because they were also defending the authority of scripture.

        The nineteenth century attitudes towards slavery and the Bible can be found in this, still relevant, article by Kevin Giles from 1994 in the Evangelical Quarterly:

        • “I wish I could believe that this is the case.”

          Two things.

          First, I am primarily speaking for myself. I personally do not consider SSA/M a first order issue, and gave an explanation why. My assertion that this is also true of other conservatives (countering Jame’s assertion) in the debate is just a perception from the commentary on these issues; not iron-clad, though one I feel I could substantiate. Phil Almond makes this case often, and well: SSA/M is the presenting issue of much deeper and more vital divisions, ones which are serious enough to be considered ‘first order’.

          Second, I hope I was not dismissive of “biblical arguments for same-sex marriage” because I believe that they both can be made, and in some cases be compelling. I have to say that right now am unpersuaded by the biblical arguments in favour of affirming SSA/M, but compared to where I stood 5 years ago, before I started caring and reading about the subject more widely and in more depth, I have altered my stance, and several times at that. I cannot claim the same black-and-white certainty I claimed before. This is really an aside. My second point was that I think you’re misunderstood the distinction I am making Jonathan:

          It is NOT about a rejection of “……biblical arguments for same-sex marriage” but of those arguments that don’t appeal to scripture (or tradition, or reason) at all. Both sides are guilty of these, but the arguments for change far moreso.


        • And just to define the phrase “first order” as I am using it (definitions seem to be particular important under these comments today), I mean issues that invalidate (as in, render worthless) the institution of the church (specifically: the world expression of).

        • Jonathan, I think Ian sums up well where your position on the biblical material fails.

          And if the language of exploitation is never used, it becomes illegitimate for you to treat the exploitation context as the *likeliest* option, as the working hypothesis. It is impossible for the likeliest option to be something for which there is no textual evidence.

          First you would have to provide other examples of the likeliest interpretative option for a given passage being one that centres on things that never appear in the text.

          Unless that evidence is provided, the idea of your stance being allowed pole position within anyone’s thinking must be universally rejected.

          So – (a) where is the evidence of exploitation in the texts;

          (b) what gives you the right (which none of the rest of us possess) to claim pole position for a theory where absent concepts are treated as central;

          (c) where else in scripture does the likeliest interpretation centre on ideas absent from the text?

    • Hi James. I don’t think any of those opposed to change ever said this was other than a primary issue did they? How could the doctrine of marriage and creation, clearly stated in scripture, be anything other than primary? Affirming SSM surely makes a mockery of the idea that we take our rule of life from the Bible.

      People didn’t suddenly start making it a first order issue. They always thought it was one. They just didn’t say so until it became a live possibility.

      • Can someone tell what a primary or first order issue means in practice other than that it is more significant the a secondary or second order issue? What do they consider to be other primary or first order issues by way of an example?

        • To clarify Matt’s noble attempt above did not help. I cannot see how an organisation can become invalid – lease of all one that is a part of the church universal which is God’s creation not ours.

          What effect is it to the individual.

          • I am sorry that it did not help, but I thank you for at least telling me so.

            I am probably not (read: certainly not) going to be able to provide a properly objective answer to that. I’ll just add a bit of padding to the answer above and hope that it makes my ramblings more useful. I hope this doesn’t come across as patronising..

            A first order issue, as I see it (and it is all, to some degree, subjective), is something that compromises the integrity of the church to such a degree that remaining in communion with it, or a member of it, would be damaging; moreso than the damage possibly caused by leaving it. This is essentially a re-wording of what I said above.

            What actually makes something first order is the degree to which it represents a departure from the truths the church claims to possess and has historically attested to; the truths imparted through the gift of scripture, traditions of the church and the reason of man (The whole natural law debate). In practical terms for the CofE (and this is the objectionable part, so I wouldn’t expect people to agree) this usually means adherence the 3 creeds, the 39 articles and the declaration of assent that clergy make on taking office, (if I understand that correctly?) though this is not an exclusive list.

            These things are the basis of canon law, and in turn the liturgy; through which these things are taught and communicated to the laity. They are, in other words, the basis upon which the CofE was instituted. First order things are ones that create irreparable conflict with that foundation and tend to be, therefore, issues that relate to the church’s fundamental understanding of issues like the person-hood of Christ, the physical resurrection, of salvation by faith alone, the reality of sin, etc.

            Critically for this discussion, one of those ‘foundational elements’ is the necessity, power and sufficiency of scripture, an element that I feel is being too easily dismissed in the case for revision. I should be very careful though, I am not meaning to sweep every argument that is testing or challenging our scriptural understanding away, I am however concerned that the greatest weight being bought to bear on the case for change (especially in the reporting thereof) is that of a subjective individualism….

            So to answer (hopefully) your two questions of me.

            1. This is what I meant by rendering the organization worthless (perhaps a heavy-handed phrase, I concede). To use that last example, if the value and importance of scripture, and what it teaches (though it is rarely 100% explicit) were to be denied, repeatedly and often (note: this is not the same things a it being challenged/questioned, which is good!), this would represent an undermining, or departure from the things that defined what it meant to be the CofE, so to what degree would such a person be in communion with it…

            2. You are right to draw a distinction about the church being God’s institution, so to be clear, when I have been talking about the church, I mean the man-made institutions thereof; corporate groups of people if you will; not the worldwide body of believers.

            Obviously this whole point/comment rests on a series of assumptions. My intent is not to persuade you per se, but to flesh out what I meant and I hope it is helpful.

          • Matt,

            Thank you. I think I now understand what you mean.

            I am undecided on this issue. However, I am clear that whatever my view it must be based on scripture.

            That said, having read the views of a number of evangelicals on both sides I can see that it is not a one-sided argument.

  21. Hi Will

    I think we have just proved that checking the way we use terms is worthwhile.

    You refer to the “Natural Moral Law” and refer to Paul’s letter to the Romans. With that clarification you helpfully clarify and throw into perspective our different contexts of usage. I would use the term “Natural Law” in a wider sense – though I do of course, engage extensively on your preferred ground as I must. We interpret scripture as speaking of a moral order to a natural order – “ought” and “is”. Our understanding is plainly going awry when we assert as “is” that which demonstrably “isn’t”. At that point it’s time for a re-think!

    The normative is an important and valid area of examination but you do risk theology becoming entirely circular and self referential. Importantly, we disconnect with our target missionary audience if we do not – cannot – engage with the expanding knowledge fields elsewhere.

    Thus I would include within “Natural Law ” Einsteins equation E=MC2 which I would describe as
    “True but not Biblical”. The philosopher Wittgenstein once said ” My work comprises everything I have written, and everything I have not written”. I think the same is true about God’s work ( indeed John’s Gospel ends on just such a note).

    It follows that observation of the natural world and questions drawn from it are valid; speculation over “what this means” is entirely proper, and this can and should interact with our readings of the text. Today, all but our most “literalist friends” (apologies Clive) accept evolution as a lens through which we can and should read Genesis, yet those who do so, nevertheless regard themselves as “faithful and Orthodox”. I know the theory of evolution has its unresolved problems but let’s not go there now.

    Our knowledge of the natural world – itself a revelation from God – interacts with our theology. We do not ignore the implications for Genesis when we find and date dinosaur bones fossilised in rock but ask ” what does this mean – and inevitably how does this change our reading of scripture?” Ignoring the problem or simplistically denying it whilst quoting scripture was plain foolish.

    The same, I hold, applies to our growing understanding of sexuality. There is no reason to believe that those who received the biblical revelations had any reason to understand the complexities which lay outside their world view. Why would they know about gay penguins or bi-sexual dolphins? What could possibly cause them to ask questions about sexuality being possibly and naturally non-binary?

    I take your point that the Fall can be understood in terms of disease or disaster, but what has this got to do with hermaphrodite phyla? Were there no snails in the Garden of Eden?

    Is it “Male and Female he made them – except Echinoderms? Is the wrasse fish ( a “sequential hermaphrodite” ) the work of the devil? If the lilies of the fields are arraigned in greater glory than Solomon, may not the non-reproductive sexuality of the dolphin ( inter alia) be similarly a blessing of God whose commitment to diversity seems to have extended significantly beyond the purview of pre-Darwinian Christians?

    You have agreed that animals are not “moral beings”. It follows that their observable behaviours are untainted and either “God determined” or at least “not God offending”. God made them and saw that they were good; and let us not rush past the point that “Male and Female He made them” is not just a statement of the binary but of the inclusive. He equally made them both – all – including the bi-sexual dolphins and the asexual but reproducing-by-division amoeba. Men are not better than women. That bit sometimes got lost in translation.

    So our observations of the natural world compel us to read scripture differently from how we would have done so for the first two millennia of Christianity. We should examine the normative “what ought” but not to the exclusion of the facts of “what is”. If we learn that God’s good creation encompasses a wider sexual diversity than was once known, is that something we should ignore?

    I do not greatly disagree that “…the idea that it is right to seek the good, where the good is defined in terms of the form and design which God has given the world, and human beings within that. It is closely related to the idea of rationality, reason and what we have reason to do.” The problem is when we get down to specifics.

    So now we know that the natural world presents multiple reproductive and sexual expressions, does not rationality impel us to refocus in the same way that we were obliged to re-evaluate Genesis in the light of the discoveries of Mary Anning on the Dorset coast?

    I will do not accept your latter points. Suffice it to say that an intellectually fossilised Church is a poor advert for the living Christ, and that takes us to a deeper question.

    Matt is worried that the scriptural baby will be thrown out with the bath water. I sympathise with his fear but think it unfounded.

    Christianity was taken down the blind ally of slavery by “a certain more literalist approach to scripture”. It got taken down another blind ally by a similar resistance to evolution. We now confront another complex issue and a passionate minority are holding onto a very similar if not identical methodology in the sexuality debate as that which took us off course in the earlier controversies – which they lost.

    So here is my question Will. What lessons were learned about the erroneous close application of scripture in the debates over slavery and evolution, so that such errors will not be replicated in the debates over sexuality?

    • Hi Martin.

      Your analogy with evolution is flawed. Augustine was teaching figurative readings of Genesis in the 5th century. Thomas Chalmers was advocating a version of evolution 20 years before Darwin. Evolution was not generally considered unorthodox.

      Sexual reproduction involves two sexes. That’s why there are two and why they are mutually attracted. Some animals change sex biologically as part of reproduction. Humans don’t.

      You seem to want to take our ethics from penguins and dolphins. Can’t you appreciate that Christians should take our lead from scripture not animals? And from God’s design of the human being, not of penguins?

      As it happens of course penguins aren’t sexual with the same sex, and eventually mate and reproduce with the opposite sex, as you’d expect. But even if they didn’t it still wouldn’t be our moral guide, and still wouldn’t replace scripture.

      We avoid making the mistake of the defenders of slavery by not defending an institution that is not part of the natural law and known to be the result of sin, and contrary to Christian principles of freedom and equality in Christ, when the real possibility of its abolition arises. The cases are not analogous.

    • Hi Martin,

      You explain the case for extending our understanding of natural law to include, what you call, ‘true, but not biblical’.

      However, nothing in Will’s post or comments would imply an aversion for extra-biblical phenomena. The real issue is Will takes is with framing a phenomenon as extra-biblical in order to imply it is not contra-biblical conclusion.

      As an example, the phenomenon of genetic sexual attraction (GSA) affects siblings, who are raised separately, but meet in later life.

      Let’s be clear that there is no biblical record of the phenomenon, but does the fact that it’s extra-biblical mean that it’s also not contra-biblical? And does that also make the case for the Church to affirm the consequent relationship as a part of a protected identity?

      So, would you include GSA, when you write that ‘our observations of the natural world compel us to read scripture differently from how we would have done so for the first two millennia of Christianity’?

      Applying your argument of ‘true, but not biblical’ to this phenomenon might well cause us to re-evaluate the OT prohibitions on incest which, after all, only appear in a few verses of Leviticus 18:8-18 and 20:11-21.

      Certainly, Christ was silent on the subject and St. Paul’s denunciation of a man in a sexual relationship with his father’s wife in 1 Cor. 5:1 does not correlate to the GSA phenomenon which we see today.

      All of these statements echo the usual revisionist counter-arguments.

      Admittedly, for GSA couples, there is potential for inbreeding depression, but the advent of genetic screening means that this can be eliminated. And anyway, I am told by our ‘revisionist friends’ that marriage is not about procreation, but about mutuality and faithfulness.

      So, I have three questions relating to your notion of natural sexual phenomena which are ipso facto ‘untainted and either “God determined” or at least “not God offending”:
      1. What lessons were learned about the erroneous close application of scripture in the debates over slavery and evolution, so that such errors will not be replicated in the case of denying marriage to GSA couples?
      2. Is the marriage of GSA couples really a ‘first-order’ gospel issue?
      3. Why shouldn’t the Church join the campaign for GSA couples, who are currently marginalised by irrational prejudice, to be allowed to marry?

      • Hi David

        I don’t criticise Will for his more specific use of the term “Natural Law”; it’s simply that we can only discuss his or my broader approach ( derived partly from a Jurisprudential background) if we first clarify our terms of reference in advance, otherwise we risk misunderstanding.

        You and I will probably not fall out over incest issues. Don’t forget, I am content with our Archbishop’s approach looking at Tradition, Scripture, Reason and Science. I think we can agree on an incest prohibition from permutations of those perspectives. It follows that I have a wider repertoire of arguments available to me than those who resist a wider range approach.

        Don’t forget, under Human Rights Law the concept of the ” margin of appreciation ” exists to align law with societal standards and attitudes. It is that secular concept that permits some societies to affirm gay marriage and others not. Both approaches are Human Rights compliant according to the context in which complainants find themselves.

        Is that comprehensive enough? I am not trying to avoid issues.

        • Hi Martin,

          You state: ‘I think we can agree on an incest prohibition from permutations of those perspectives.

          Well, in drawing upon your wider repertoire of arguments, why don’t you tell us what are those permutations when we now apply ‘very precise terms in which I define the subject matter under debate’, as you describe it on another thread.

          Without just re-iterating scriptural prohibitions, what objective reasons should prevent your arguments in favour of Church affirmation of same-sex sexual relationships from being re-purposed to affirm permanent faithful stable relationships between consenting adults who experience GSA?

          • Jeremy Bentham said ” you don’t weigh butcher’s meet in diamond scales”.

            Precision is sometimes necessary but this I think is not one of them.

            Church Tradition – not least in the prohibited degrees of marriage are a starting point.

            You reference scriptural disapproval which I don’t challenge.

            Science tells us via the science of genetics that interbreeding yields serious harm to offspring – a current serous problem in the UK is the prevalence of first cousin marriage amongst members of the Pakistani Muslin community for cultural reasons. Some 25% of children of such unions are born with significant disability, mental or physical. I need not labour the costs on individuals, families education, medical, and social services.

            Reason tells you that incest undermines and destabilises families, not least when it occurs in relationships where there is power imbalance and the potential for abuse.

            I have no doubt that a case of hardship could be mounted but ” hard cases make bad law” but I would need a better argument than I have yet heard before I began to consider that the ” margin of appreciation ” might be interpreted in its favour.

            I trust that is a clear outline application of the principles I have advanced in other contexts.

          • Hi Martin,

            Thanks for your reply. A revisionist would respond:
            As explained on this thread, tradition has not prevented the Church from changing its stance on slavery, evolution, contraception, women bishops and divorce. Why should this be any different?

            The prohibited degrees of marriage are based on the quoted Leviticus passage. Leviticus also condemns same-sex sexual activity. You’ve also been helpful in explaining the importance of context and not applying a simplistic literalist interpretation.

            So, there is no rational basis for restricting the revisionist exemption from the Levitical Code to just same-sex couples. That would be a groundless special pleading.

            Also, to apply revisionist reasoning consistently would mean that if same-sex sexual activity is not a first-order gospel issue, then neither is incest.

            I’m not sure how your evidence of procreative harm gets into this discussion. Yes, the traditional position links marriage to procreation, but revisionists consistently advise that marriage and procreation are separate issues, as evidenced by permitting childless and elderly couples to marry. We don’t prevent couples from marrying in later life on the basis that they incur a greater likelihood of having children with birth defects, do we? Revisionists have explained to me that marriage is really about two people who love each other and are wiling to commit to a permanent, faithful and stable relationship.

            Also, despite the evidence of inbreeding depression which you furnish, cousin marriage is permitted in many US states, some add the proviso of genetic screening which would prevent the kind of procreative harm that you describe.

            You may be aware of the jurisdictions which have enacted same-sex marriage and have extended the presumption of legitimacy to same-sex spouses.

            In terms of undermining natural parenthood in favour of same-sex couples’ family intentions, the International Lesbian and Gay Association, the most prominent organisation officially advising the European Community on LGBT discrimination, drafted this amendment to the Proposed European Convention on Family Status.

            Parental affiliation:
            Article 12 – Spouses and registered partners:
            ‘A person who is the spouse or registered partner of a child’s parent at the time of that child’s birth shall also be considered as a parent, regardless of genetic connection.’

            Also, the considerable case law in this area of intentional parenthood shows that same-sex marriage laws have provided same-sex couples with the means to undermine legally the natural parenthood of a child’s known biological father in order to assert their own joint parenthood. The particularly sad case comes to mind of In re: M.C. (California Court of Appeal).

            If your appeal to reason is to prevent destabilising and undermining of existing family relationships, then this would bolster the case against any affirmation of same-sex sexual relationships as marriage, since the latter has been a legal lever for doing the same.

            Therefore, the objective re-application of known revisionist arguments about sexuality from church tradition, scripture, science and reason would just as easily support close-family marriage between those experiencing genetic sexual attraction as the arguments support same-sex marriage between those experiencing same-sex attraction.

          • BTW, as you’re probably aware, the margin of appreciation was applied in favour of the Austrian government in Schalke and Kopf vs. Austria to reject their claim of sexual orientation discrimination.

            The European Court declared that marriage is ‘geared towards the fundamental possibility of parenthood’.

          • Hi David

            My response was a sketch not a serious study, it not being a subject in which I have invested much energy.

            What folk may not appreciate here, is that I offered one of the first objections to SSM on the ConservativeHome website; I advanced the case not on moral or theological grounds but on the “slippery slope” argument. I used the example of polygamy;your argument would have served equally well.

            In taking the Archbishops’ four approaches seriously, let’s recall that these are “weights in the balance” one does not need all four, and some may be more decisive in one cases, less so in another.

            Church Tradition for us is significant; that we revise it in one area e.g. Women priests, does not require all tradtion to be revised in every case. Plainly resurrecting it as a veto would be difficult, but the four approaches do not require that.

            Science – yes certain US states may permit cousin marriages; it is certainly ” evidence” – I would not call it compelling, and the scientific argument remains substantial if one is promulgating a change with significant societal impact especially in less medically supported communities. I never thought the ” because they love each other ” a trump card – a factor to be taken into account but not overwhelming on its own.

            Your passage on Reason attracts some sympathy. I preferred elevating and celebrating the status of Civil Partnership but my advice was not followed! We are where we are and like it or not our present stance presents a major obstruction to mission especially amongst the young.

            I put myself in the ” is what it is ” school of thought. A significant loving self sex partner can be hugely important to a child – we don’t have to redefine parenthood to make that happen. Incidentally one need not look to same sex relationship to see my point – Mary’s husband Joseph serves as a prime example for me. Properly modelled surrogate fathers do splendid work – the best “work with the grain” of all relationships important to the child.

            You may reach the conclusion of your final paragraph – I don’t. These disputes are rarely black and white, principles are malleable within bounds ( Google Ronald Dworkin and the ” hole in the doughnut theory” ) which is why I speak of factors having weight; how one distributes the weight to be attached to each and any argument affects the outcome.

          • Martin, the mission argument is invalid. Denominations which have embraced SSM, such as TEC, have shown no improvement in membership. Meanwhile, it is theologically orthodox churches and ministries which have had continued to have most success overall. This may change in the future. But at the present time all the evidence is that embracing this change has no positive effect on mission, and resisting it has no negative effect. Indeed, the opposite effect may actually occur, with orthodoxy aiding mission, though that would be an extrapolation too far on present evidence.

          • Hi Martin,

            My responses were based on the supposedly compelling revisionist arguments levelled at those who oppose the Church affirmation of same-sex sexual relationships..

            So, I’d agree you explain that ‘Church Tradition for us is significant; that we revise it in one area e.g. Women priests, does not require all tradition to be revised in every case’, but that would apply as much to same-sex sexual relationships, polygamy and genetic sexual attraction as to slavery and evolution.

            During its earliest missionary activities in Africa, the Church began by insisting that converted native polygamists could continue to receive religious instruction, but not be baptized or receive Holy Communion. Due to the campaigning of missionary clergy like Bishop Colenso, this rule was eventually relaxed, but on the proviso that the polygamists put away all but one wife.

            Without exception, they continue to be barred from Holy Orders and what’s surprising is that those in the CofE hierarchy who favoured this are some of the most ardent advocates of same-sex marriage.

            In a nutshell, it’s the patronizing ‘them-and-us’ colonial mindset by which Church Tradition is insisted upon for African Anglicans, while nonchalantly campaigning for it to be set aside in the CofE.

            In terms of science, you claim that: ‘the scientific argument remains substantial if one is promulgating a change with significant societal impact especially in less medically supported communities. Again, I’d agree with this, but this is equally applicable to the higher levels of promiscuity and STD’s for gay men.

            Yet, instead of just proposing disease prevention through ‘safe sex’ education, revisionists tell us that to counter-act this problem, we should promulgate the significant societal change of officially affirming same-sex sexual relationships through marriage.

            We are where we are and like it or not our present stance presents a major obstruction to mission especially amongst the young.

            This is simply capitulating to the zeitgeist. By today’s standards, John the Baptist’s call to repentance, which included denouncing Herod Antipas’ illicit marriage to his brother’s ex-wife (Herodias) was a major obstruction to mission among supporters of the Herodian dynasty.

            The gospel’s call to repentance becomes meaningless when, as a result of special pleadings, it ceases to challenge society. In terms of mission, you need look no further than TECUSA, which, despite changing its stance on same-sex sexual relationships, has waned in its missional impact on youth and the wider society.

            You wrote: ‘A significant loving self [sic] sex partner can be hugely important to a child – we don’t have to redefine parenthood to make that happen.

            I’d agree. Yet, it’s the fact that marriage automates parental recognition at birth which prompts LGBT advocacy groups to campaign for the presumption of legitimacy to be equally applicable to LGBT couples.

            I’d agree that the various factors have differing weights and that these disputes are rarely black-and-white. Yet, the revisionist arguments in favour of the Church affirmation of same-sex sexual relationships are typically black-and-white.

            And this is why most revisionists on this comment thread have had no problem with seeking to promote the notion of striking similarities between their cause and what we now see as black vs. white, right vs. wrong 19C arguments over slavery.

            It’s just a political ruse aimed at demonizing opponents and shutting down the debate.

    • “Matt is worried that the scriptural baby will be thrown out with the bath water. I sympathise with his fear but think it unfounded.”

      I’ll accept that criticism, it was perhaps unneeded hyperbole.

      Though, obviously, I have significant concerns…

  22. I just don’t agree that affirming SSM makes a mockery of scriptural authority. I know you vehemently and profoundly disagree, but that’s how it is. I could argue that your beliefs make a mockery of the idea of scriptural authority, but I don’t because it’s going round in circles. We disagree profoundly about what scriptural authority *means* and about what scripture says- as Anglicans have done for years. I’m just arguing that that’s OK from an institutional point of view. We must find a way to live with this

    • Hi James. Yes we disagree. But the church must decide what it believes. Does it believe what it has always done, that when the Bible says marriage involves a man and a woman becoming one flesh, that’s what it means? Or does it believe it means something else quite different?

      No plausible reading of the Bible can find marriage as described there to include same-sex couples.

  23. Why can’t the church just say it has no one party line? What use is it for ‘the church’ to profess to believe something when a big chunk of people within it dissent? I feel it would be better if we moved away from an artificially monolithic view of the church and acknowledge that it is a broad collection of Christians with different perspectives. The church’s teachings on issues like salvation do this- there is ‘a line’, but it is phrased in such a way that it can be accepted by people with radically, radically different views. We should do the same with marriage.

    • This is an argument (a bad one) about weather Marriage is a first order issue. It is somewhat subjective I grant you, but there are much clearer boundaries than you imply…

      It is not an argument at all for the validity or otherwise of SSM though. Just because there are differing opinions, and we should allow diversity of disagreement within the body (i too reject the ‘artificial monolith’ image), does not mean we have to accept that all disagreement are A: equally justifiable biblically/reasonably, or B: equally important/divisive.

      I could have a radically different view to you on, say, tithing, and we could live in disagreement over this, priobably quite happily. It owuld be far harder to stay in communion with you if we felt out to the same degree over, say, the physical Resurrection of Jesus. One is clearly of a difefrent level (or order) to the other.

      I think this generalisation is unhelpful, lazy and beneath you.

    • James – the church could do that. But:
      1) that would be a change of teaching because the church currently has a line on it, the same line it’s always had
      2) that would not be acceptable to those who want to be part of a church still committed to the orthodox faith, or to most of the Anglican Communion
      3) it is implausible to claim this would retain fidelity to the Bible, which clearly doesn’t support SSM

      If the church is full of dissenters then that is a problem which the bishops need to address.

      • Will – agreed ‘the church could do that’ – because this is a church that has does this before – changed its ‘line’ in relatively recent history on evolution, slavery, women, usury and contraception to name a few. And yes I know they are not all the same status but the church is always learning and adapting and coming to new understandings.
        ‘it is implausible to claim this would retain fidelity to the Bible, which clearly doesn’t support SSM’. I and others here don’t agree with you. Once again you simply assert your opinion as fact and seem quite unable to consider that faithful, intelligent, biblically literate Christians like you actually believe something different from you.
        I am grateful for this thread for the quality on engagement from those on the more inclusive side. While I respect the conservative voices and have listened carefully I remain unconvinced by claims that the seismic shift in the church’s approach to slavery does not point to a way of faithfully reading scripture that can and should be applied to other issues today – and in this context for seeking the mind of God regarding same sex relationships.
        Thanks again

        • Thanks, David.

          Well you can’t win them all!

          Slavery and SSM have totally different relationships to scripture, tradition and the natural moral law. That’s what the blog post is about. To claim a common methodology is theologically illiterate – they have totally different relationships to the fall, to the design of human beings, and to Christian history. The only thing they have in common is they both involve some kind of change.

          The idea that the scriptural conception of marriage embraces same-sex couples is transparently ludicrous, whatever some intelligent people might believe. I would paste here all the verses which refer to marriage to show how incoherent such an idea is. But I fear it would not be a good use of time!

          Thanks for engaging :-).

          • Will ‘The only thing they have in common is they both involve some kind of change.’ And that is the point I am making! You are not listening. The change is in how we read and interpret scripture.
            ‘Theologically illiterate transparently ludicrous incoherent not a good use of time’ …. well I and a number of others (including ‘some intelligent people’) here have gone to some time and trouble to genuinely engage here. Sorry to have troubled you.

          • Hi David. Ok, here you go:

            God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:27-8)

            For the man there was not found a helper as his partner… “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:20, 23-4)

            To the woman he said…, “Your desire shall be for your husband.” (Genesis 3:16)

            Jesus answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6, Mark 10:6-9)

            Husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:28-33)

            Each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. (1 Corinthians 7:2-3)

            The unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7:14)

            Encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children. (Titus 2:4)

            Husbands, in the same way, show consideration for your wives in your life together, paying honour to the woman as the weaker sex, since they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life—so that nothing may hinder your prayers. (1 Peter 3:7)

            No sign of same-sex couples here. And indeed:

            God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-7)

            Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites…none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9)

            The law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. (1 Timothy 1:9-11)

          • Will I have simply no idea how you think this long list of texts is actually a response to anything I am saying. It isn’t. This is not an argument I am having here. (And I do have a copy of the bible actually) .
            Forgive me, but the continued impression is that you are just not listening.

          • Hi David.

            I said:
            I would paste here all the verses which refer to marriage to show how incoherent such an idea is. But I fear it would not be a good use of time!

            You said:
            ‘Not a good use of time’ …. well I and a number of others (including ‘some intelligent people’) here have gone to some time and trouble to genuinely engage here. Sorry to have troubled you.

            So not wanting to appear rude I obliged. It does seem though that my original conclusion was correct: it was not a good use of time.

            A list of the Bible verses relating to marriage is surely though some kind of answer to the charge that I am merely asserting that SSM does not feature in the biblical picture of marriage.

            I can only assure you that I am listening to everything you’re saying and trying to respond with rational arguments.

          • David, you say “the continued impression is that you are just not listening” – but do you also not see that we who hold traditional views on this matter think that those who are revisionists are just not listening. I think both sides have listened, but simply just disagree.

          • Simon In this instance Will and I misunderstood each other. That happens too. But it when a point is made or question asked and the response bears no relation to it. Then you wonder. But yes I’m sure you wonder about me too at times. I do aspire to listen well. I don’t always succeed. We certainly disagree.

          • David, I have the utmost respect for you – I have read several of your books to great profit and was inspired when a struggling ordinand by you leading a retreat day on the cross, over 25 years ago. But I do wonder sometimes how you, and others I similarly respect, can read the same Scriptures as I read and yet come to radically different interpretations.

  24. Oh do give it a rest with your insults- you even accused me of trolling a while ago.

    I don’t welcome your basic explanation of the concept of first and second order issues- I understand it perfectly well thank you.

    I am arguing that it is unhelpful and mean spirited for you to consider homosexuality a first order issue- it’s just a way of trying to force your own way on an issue you care about particularly. In fact, the very existence of the communion is founded on tolerance of disagreements often of a far more profound kind. You ought to accept that intelligent and faithful people can come to a different view to you.

    • I withdraw my comment on a previous post about you trolling. It was unfair and dismissive, so I apologise for it. However, I am frustrated that even though you say you understand the meaning of, and the difference between first and second order issues, your commentary here would demonstrate several things that would seem in conflict with that.

      First, it seems clear to me that you would accept, theoretically, that any theological position, if strongly held, is of validity/worth, and that it could (and indeed should) be accommodated for by the church. Your mission here seems very often to be the demolition of any ‘red lines’ at all, and I think that is dangerous.

      Second, you have asserted several times words to the effect of ‘the church’s position is unclear’, or ‘the church’s position leaves room for dissenting/alternate views’, or even that, to phrase you more directly, ‘the line is blurred’ in relation to some (but implicitly most) church teaching. I do not agree, and I think this would be very hard to substantiate. It might not always be taught and communicated clearly (on that I would agree), but by and large the church’s official line on things is clear, and has been for some time, arguably (though I have not made this case) since it’s inception. That was what I meant when I accused you of lazy generalization, I simply don’t think your observation is accurate. Even opponents of current teaching who want to see it changed (and not just this issue) recognise its clarity.

      Third, and lastly, you are attributing to me something I did not say. I have not said at any point above that Homosexuality is a first order issue (that was Will). My position is that the first order issue is something else, something that the SSM issue (characterized by the debate) is a Symptom of. As an aside, I do not think it mean-spirited for Will to insist that current, clear, church teaching is taught, with consequences for it being ignored/undermined….

      I will however pledge to be less childish in some of the responses I have written. It is not just our opinions that differ significantly, but our perspectives too. I think you are right, I could certainly be trying much harder to stand in your shoes than I currently am.

      Sincerely this time,

      • Hi Mat. Just to clarify it’s not homosexuality as such that is a first order issue. The pastoral accommodation for the laity in this area shows that. It’s specifically same-sex marriage that is a first order issue both because of its contravening clear scriptural teaching on marriage (your point, though you seem to doubt its clarity) and because it is of itself such a central element of the moral law and of a biblical anthropology.

  25. I cannot but reflect upon the fact that after all has been said and done ( all with passion and integrity) we might move the needle a few points this way or that, yet whether that is pro or anti same sex marriage , the assertion that ” the Church believes / teaches x or y ” will remain significantly untrue.

    Whosoever “wins” will hold a position of dubious validity.

  26. Continuing the discussion with Will Jones from above:-

    Regardless of whether homosexuality’s a “psychological condition,” (& SFAIK, there’s no clear evidence that it is) we do know it arises spontaneously, and is, at the very least, extremely resistant to any attempts to change it. That being so, what’s the most humane way to respond?

    A majority of LGB people believe that it’s to allow them the same potential to form intimate relationships as enjoyed by straight people, and the major psychological associations have come to agree. That being so, appeals to “natural law,” whether inferred from nature, or imposed upon it from another source (such as scripture) should be accompanied by compelling evidence that they’re preferable to equality. I’ve yet to see this.

    As for English bishops imposing orthodoxy, both in England, and the wider communion, they’ve been trying for decades! Short of inquisitions, how much more can they do? And if there were inquisitions, given the substantial number of LGB English priests and laity in England, it’d likely tear the church apart. As shown by England’s Synod refusing to take note of the “shared conversations,” imposing your interpretation of orthodoxy’s simply impractical.

    There’s two alternatives: the English church splits as amicably as it’s able; or some way’s found for both affirming and traditional Anglicans to exist within the same structure with integrity. I’d like the see the latter, but given some of the comments here, fear that the former may be inevitable. What say you?

    • Hi James.

      A humane response to an apparently spontaneous and fixed condition. That is surely the best and most authentic argument for the affirming position. No pretence of finding same-sex marriage in the Bible. Indeed, eschewing the idea that scripture should be able to overrule equality without compelling evidence.

      It can obviously be challenged as disregarding the authority of scripture. But isn’t that the point? Reason, experience, science have shown the church where scripture has got it wrong and teaching needs updating. So surely we should just do that?

      I’m not going to deny that it is hard to counter this argument persuasively in the current climate. Underlying it is a kind of empiricist utilitarianism, a demand for us to show evidence of real harm to back up our ethical principle. If you want to ban same-sex relationships, prove they’re a problem, inherently and not just incidentally, and then we might listen. Otherwise stop impeding harmless loving intimacy.

      I believe this argument can be effectively countered, so that the church can rationally justify standing by the Bible’s teaching. This is through a combination of a priori arguments and evidence of real harm. But I’m not going to pretend that many will find this persuasive at the moment.

      I don’t think the bishops have tried very hard to teach the church’s teaching and should try harder. I think they should stand up to Synod and show them what it means for the church to be episcopally led. I think the integrity of the Church of England is at stake as an orthodox church under the authority of scripture. I don’t think further accommodation is consistent with integrity. Further moves will also undermine the Anglican Communion and, very likely, congregation numbers. A line needs to be drawn, and held, before it’s too late.

      • Will you teach the doctrine of Christ as the Church of England has received it, will you refute error, and will you hand on entire the faith that is entrusted to you?
        By the help of God, I will.

        I’d be interested to know if any bishop has recently and publicly taught the Church of England’s received position on marriage, and/or refuted error on this subject?

      • Will, thanks again for a thorough reply. 🙂

        Practically, even if English bishops chose this hill to fight to the last on (and I doubt a majority would, especially the gay ones), all they could do would be to enforce stalemate in England by blocking Synod motions. At that point, how long d’you think it’d take for the Westminster Parliament to step into what remains a state church? It came close with equal consecration. And until it does, how would this stand play with congregations and potential members?

        If planting your flag and bellowing “Never surrender!” is all that’s offered to a church split down the middle on this matter, then schism really is inevitable. I’d hope a political philosopher could suggest an alternative, but perhaps I’m asking too much, and there simply isn’t one. If so, I’m sad. I still hope there’s another way.

        As for utilitarianism, I dig deontology, and support equality precisely because I believe that each person’s an end in and of themselves, not a means by which external goals, be they upholding biblical authority, or winning a political battle, can be achieved.

        The church has a duty to do justice, and I see nothing just in excluding a majority of LGBT people based on a mix of authoritarianism and extremely dubious health claims, claims rejected for decades by the relevant professional bodies. Regardless of the current climate, singling out a class of people in this way requires the most compelling evidence, a burden that the traditional side hasn’t come close to meeting. If you didn’t believe in biblical authority, would you honestly entertain them?

        • Hi James.

          Yes I would. Scripture confirms the natural moral law, it doesn’t stipulate it; it is not true because it is in scripture, it is in scripture because it is true. SSS and SSA are disordered, the first morally, the second psychologically. This is evident from the way human beings function and are made, since human beings are designed to reproduce sexually, and their anatomy aligns with that purpose.

          The problem with your position, James, is it doesn’t recognise that the church is under the authority of scripture. You are far too content to set that aside in favour of modern principles which contradict scriptural teaching. The idea that the bishops might defend the doctrine of Christ as the Church of England has received it might be fanciful in the current state of affairs. But I for one cannot in good conscience support any other course of action.

          • Accepting, arguendo, that my own position’s problematic for junking scriptural authority: what of those who consider themselves bound by the Bible, but who sincerely believe that gay relationships ought to be affirmed? Much a protestant church schism every time people disagree over what they believe are first order issues?

            As for homosexuality being “disordered,” let’s say, for sake of argument (& I’m emphatically taking Beelzebub’s brief here) that you’re right. Given that we currently have no means of changing a person’s sexual orientation, and that, since homosexuality’s not a disorder in the medical sense, the vast majority of clinicians consider it a breach of ethics to even try, in order to make an extra-biblical case, you’d need to show that compulsory celibacy is healthier for LGB people than forming loving relationships in which safe sex is practiced.

            Do you have such evidence?

          • I don’t think that’s difficult at all. ‘Compulsory’ celibacy (it’s not compulsory, there are no legal sanctions) is the church’s teaching for all unmarried people, whatever their sexual orientation. I have no reservations at all in commending it as the right, proper and healthy course of life for all unmarried people.

            All who are able may marry a person of the opposite sex, of course.

            In terms of your position junking scriptural authority, I took that from sentiments like: I certainly see no argument for making flawed authors from 2,000 years ago or more (people ignorant of knowledge we now take for granted) God’s mouthpieces.

            Those who think the Bible includes same-sex relationships in its understanding of marriage are engaging in a major exercise in wishful thinking.

    • First paragraph should read:
      How does the Church affirmation for same-sex sexual relationships for LGB people allow them the same potential to form intimate relationships?

  27. Hi James,

    Why does the lack of Church affirmation for same-sex sexual relationships for LGB people allow them the same potential to form intimate relationships.

    The Marriage (same-sex couples) Act allows them to be legally married and form the same kind of relationships, marriage, as enjoyed by straight people.

    Doubtless, there are many straight couples who do not enjoy Church affirmation of their relationship. Guess what? They make a civil marriage.

    So, if this isn’t a special pleading, I’d be grateful for you to explain how the lack of Church affirmation equally hinders the potential of such straight couples to form intimate relationships?

    • David, I’m referring primarily to LGB Anglicans (it appears that Synod’s at least ready to affirm the T), and since even divorced opposite-sex couples can now be remarried in an English church, like-for-like would be equal marriage with a conscience exception for ministers.

      If you’re up for this, couldn’t be happier to support it! 😉

      • Hi James,

        If Synod abandons its rush to identity affirmation and returns to the due theological reflection which it applied before passing motions for re-marriage of those divorcees and women bishops, then maybe I won’t even see it as a special pleading! 😉

      • Hi James,

        ‘Since even divorced opposite-sex couples’ can now be re-married in an English church’.

        Yep. And Synod didn’t abandon the normative processes of theological reflection to get there. For that matter, neither did the campaign for women bishops, nor any other major issue impinging on the Church’s doctrine.

        I mean, even the Sibyls complained that, after taking their evidence, the Pilling Report didn’t properly report back to the Church on the situation for transgender and transsexuals in the CofE.

        ‘We are particularly disappointed, therefore, that the Pilling Report has very little to say about transgender and transsexual people, despite our written submission, and the meetings that took place between members of the working party and Christian trans people.’

        When the due process returns to Synod for conducting thorough theological reflection before seeking liturgical change, then maybe we’ll have some reasoned evidence that’s worth supporting.

  28. Will,

    You wrote: “It is of course true that the New Testament does not condemn the institution of slavery outright or give clear instruction to seek its abolition. However, its teaching on freedom and equality in Christ, on love for neighbour and enemy, and on the universal application of the moral law, contains the seeds of all the later movements throughout Christian history to suppress it, prohibit it and, ultimately, abolish it.”

    Do you (or any of the other commenters) have any evidence that these “seeds” of redemptive “movement” were explicitly recognized as “seeds” by Christians prior to slavery being abolished in their respective areas? I’m talking about slave-owning Christians in the US, slave-owning Brits before abolition there, etc. It seems easy to make a case for some kind of remdemptive trajectory after the fact, but if this were really the case, who made this observation at the time?



  29. Gagnon summarises: slave-law in ancient Israel more enlightened than elsewhere in ANE, likewise 1 Cor. 7.21 and Philemon.’Paul does everything possible short of an outright command to free Onesimus.’
    Further, freedom and slavery are relative terms (7.22) – they still are to a certain extent today, as the one who pays the piper calls the tune; for Paul ‘slave of Christ’ was a very central identity.

    The slavery issue and the homosexuality issue are different biblically in key ways:
    -The former is acknowledged and allowed to continue rather than being prohibited; in the case of the latter, the call is for the *opposite* to take place – that something prohibited should be acknowledged and allowed.
    -The former is viewed biblically as a fact of life,never as a positive good. Homosexual behaviour on the other hand is viewed as a definite evil.

    There is *both* a quantitative *and* a qualitative difference between (a) banning something that had never actually been biblically viewed as a good anyway; (b) allowing or even affirming something that had always been biblically viewed as an evil. The only thing these two progressions (?) would have in common would be that both would constitute change. That is a very vague link indeed.

    • Christopher Let me state again what I think the ‘including’ understanding of scripture proceeds from. We accept that wherever there is an example or reference to some kind of sexual activity between people of the same sex in the Bible (and let’s note in passing there are actually very few) it is condemned. What we question is whether what is being condemned there bears any resemblance to or has any relevance to contemporary faithful, living, same-sex relationships or reflects God’s own response to such commitments. I share the including view (as I have for over 20 years) that none of them actually do. We are not ignoring the texts. We are questioning their relevance for this debate. Whatever the concerns behind those biblical texts ‘they’ do not refer to ‘this’. And the historic tendency to assume they do is not only mistaken it has been the cause of immeasurable inhumanity.

      • Hi David R.

        I am inclined to agree with a lot of this, and respect you a lot for the clear articulation of what you are dismissing and why (genuinely, it is refreshing to hear this said). I obviously do not agree, but there is at least a clarity of where we are both standing. 😉

        The difficulty then, and this is my question to you, is what do you refer to if “that” is not appropriate to the case? Rephrased: if you are not content to appeal to scripture for support, to what will you appeal, and how will justify that over the appeal to scripture?

        Below, James E makes the case that we cannot always/easily appeal to scripture as “firm evidence” of God’s will, but yet relies on the “big principles revealed in the bible”, (taken in context of course) to reveal it. Where would you stand in relation to that?


        • Mat Thank you for your question about where authority lies. It is very important and I continue to ponder this – not least in a deeply conflicted church. I do not claim a final answer and I need to be brief – so this is offered, inadequately, into the mix.
          ‘Anglicans affirm the sovereign authority of the Holy Scriptures as the medium through which God by the Spirit communicates his word in the Church. The Scriptures are the “uniquely inspired witness to divine revelation, and the primary norm for Christian faith and life”. The Scriptures must be translated, read and understood, and their meaning grasped through a continuing process of interpretation …’ The Virginia Report (Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission)
          I think that last phrase – continuing process of interpretation – is key. It has always been so actually but we prefer it when we think we can say ‘this is what the church has always taught’. In fact it may be we have simply not felt the need to question the text before. There are challenges in each generation (not least where scripture does not directly address a contemporary dilemma). But obvious examples include the debates on slavery, (and in my lifetime) evolution/creation, apartheid, usury, divorce and remarriage, contraception and women in society and the church. I simply observe here that the unsettling process of reading, re-examining, repenting, re-interpreting and revising even long unquestioned Biblical convictions under the compelling of the Spirit is a task the evangelical tradition is not unfamiliar with nor unwilling to undertake. Indeed our own understanding of scripture requires it.

          I find these words helpful from RT France (the more so because on this topic he was a conservative). ‘A truly biblical hermeneutic must not confine itself to the overt pronouncements …. but must be open to the biblical evidence as a whole, including its narrative and incidental parts. When this broader approach is undertaken it may lead us to re-examine the way in which we have read the more ‘obvious’ texts … If this makes deriving guidance for the real world from the biblical text more complex than it might at first have seemed, so be it. Let us hope that by embracing the wider range of biblical evidence we are enabled to be more responsible in offering biblical guidance for the issues of our generation.’
          He insists we recognise that the process of reading and interpreting is rarely straightforward.

          So my own approach is to ask three questions of any scripture text.
          What is the text actually saying – so far as we are able to discern (translation and exegesis)
          What is being taught there and why was it important? (context and culture)
          Only then can I begin to explore ….
          What does a faithful and obedient reading of this text actually ask of us here and now? (interpretation and application)

          Slavery and the ministry of women are two examples of where we have come, after long historic tradition, to new convictions about what scripture teaches where the directly supportive texts are lacking or actually seem to teach the opposite. For me the authority and relevance of scripture are actually enhanced by this process. So scripture tradition and reason of course – the creeds and councils – but on that foundation the search for an ‘authoritative’ reading is something we must wrestle for with together in every generation. It emerges as a faithful consensus in any time and place.
          Much more to be said of course …. Thanks again.

          • Dear David, thank you for stating your position clearly. If I read you aright, you deeply respects Scripture’s authority, but question the Tradition’s interpretation of it. You believe the texts do not in fact speak to the modern situation of same sex attraction and desire for life-long union, but rather to a very different form of sexual/homosexual expression. I wonder how you respond to this from one of the most distinguished Catholic NT scholars of his generation, on his fairly recent abandonment of what he sees as the obvious reading of Scripture on the issue of sexuality in order to embrace a same sex affirming position. Prof Luke Timothy Johnson writes: ‘I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says? We must state our grounds for standing in tension with the clear commands of Scripture, and include in those grounds some basis in Scripture itself. To avoid this task is to put ourselves in the very position that others insist we already occupy—that of liberal despisers of the tradition and of the church’s sacred writings, people who have no care for the shared symbols that define us as Christian.’ … ‘I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality.’

          • Simon You summarise my own position well I think. The issue is interpretation. I am not completely happy with where the quote goes re scripture. But I do agree that listening to experience is a vital part of the process. Experience must test scripture. And scripture must test experience.
            My wife and I were both recalling our formative years in churches where we were taught to share our faith. ‘Share your testimony’, we were told. ‘They can’t argue with your experience’. Interesting isn’t it? And if the person’s testimony is how Christ loves them and blesses them including the fact they are gay? What do you do when you discover that one of those you most admire in the faith – Christ centred, biblical teaching, evangelist is actually gay and now believes (after long, searching struggle with the bible and church tradition) that God is telling him it is OK and is actually blessing him richly in his relationships and discipleship? And that all the signs are this is true.
            We need to take it seriously when one of the most familiar results of trying to apply biblical texts to contemporary same-sex relationships is that those being referred to simply do not recognise themselves there at all. This is not that. Indeed the very idea is actually offensive. We need to listen to this. Indeed it is this conviction that has been quietly leading many evangelicals to re-examine their understanding of what scripture teaches on this issue.

            One of the neglected scripture tests for this debate is the test of time and fruit. This is perhaps a more gospel way of speaking of the test of experience. And it is Jesus himself that teaches it. ‘By their fruits you shall recognise them … A good tree cannot bear bad fruit’. (Matt 7.16-18). But fruit needs time to grow and reveal its quality. So this must be a longer-term strategy for discernment. It involves trust and risk. And as fruit requires tending and care this process requires of us patient and non-anxious welcome and inclusion.

            Thanks again for this engagement …

          • Hi David.

            The problem with experience is it’s too subjective. You say experience should test scripture – being charitable I’ll assume you mean interpretation! But people can be subjectively content with things that are objectively wrong. For instance, many slave owners had settled consciences and believed their practices produced good fruit and were supported by scripture. However, they were wrong.

            People can also have settled consciences about abandoning their wife for their new love. And isn’t everyone better overall if people are with someone they really love?

            Scripture helps us to see what is right from an objective point of view. Your methodology irretrievably loses that for a subjective sense of what feels right. It basically involves deciding what scripture needs to say and then making sure we interpret it to say it.

            Can’t you see how dangerous this is for the integrity of the faith?

          • Will In haste …. Once again I fail to see how you draw your conclusions from what I wrote here. If I say experience must be tested I mean that. Of course it can lead astray. We can be convinced but mistaken – which applies to us both here of course. Being utterly bible centred is no guarantee of getting to the truth – look at the Pharisees.

            But we read the Bible as people with experience That is how we are. It is part of being alive. And we trust that in this process our experience is maturing, becoming more responsible, deepening in wisdom. But it is always part of the way, among others, that we interpret what is going on and where God is in in it.

            When Jesus says ‘consider the lillies’ or tells stories about farming – he is inviting his listeners to engage their lived experience in the task of faith isn’t he?

            I think the psalms are a good example of the place of experience in the journey of faith. The joys and pains of life – questions, bewilderment, anger – are brought in faith to scripture and to the presence of God. Experience is the place this is all passionately wrestled with and where God is sought for meaning and guidance. That is what I mean.

            But if I agree that my experience can lead me astray I want to ask why you cannot be more positive about the gift of experience – esp. those times it leads me in the way that is right – guided by God, in the Spirit, according to his word? ‘Taste and see’ the Lord is good.

            One other thought. A tradition like ours that that strongly stresses the Bible as the supreme authority for all life and morals has a tendency to be directive in its style. And it looks with suspicion at claims to be guided from experience – as something ‘outside’ the Word. There is danger in this approach. In his book The Word of Life – the use of the Bible in Pastoral Care, William Challis (then vice principal of Wycliffe) challenges this. He quotes James Poling who strikingly defines the task of pastoral theology as ‘being to prevent theology becoming oppressive, denying the truth of people’s experience.’ I know gay Christians who feel the bible is used just like this to invalidate or actually crush their experience.

          • Thanks, David. I’m happy to agree with the importance of experience. But when the Bible invalidates a particular experience because it is contrary to the moral law and God’s revealed will, isn’t that what it means to test it against scripture?

          • David – how are we to decide/discern whether an experience is sinful and against God or spiritual and blessed of God?

          • Simon Thanks. This must be something you already have a way of seeking discernment over? How do you proceed?
            Brief and selective …. one test Jesus teaches is the test of fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit. I think that is very relevant on this topic.
            Another is the test of shared discernment and studying the Word. – is there a consensus? But there are clearly times when we have to go against the tide for the sake of what God teaches. Evangelicals used to like the saying ‘one with God is a majority’ – so arguments from numbers should not be persuasive. We are used to being a minority. Indeed it is mark of faithfulness!
            In the end ….
            ‘My confidence is not in the certainty of being right, but rather on the grace and mercy of God, before whom I have sought truth as best I can.’

          • Thank you David. For me, Scripture first and foremost – the plain sense of it in its own context and then applying the Reformed principle of wider Scripture interpreting Scripture. Then the Church, how has she across the ages and traditions understood God’s revealed mind and will in Scripture. Fruit – yes, because Jesus in Scripture tells me this matters. But experience – mine or the person i’m pastoring? Not really. I don’t trust it. I place no confidence in the flesh and the heart of man is deceitful. That is why the story based approach to making decisions at Synod recently worried me – subjectivity and experience trumped Scripture and Tradition. Perhaps that sounds harsh – but I believe I can only love my neighbour if I love God first and loving God means obeying his commandments for they flow from his perfect love. So when I deem his commands challenging the experience or desire of someone, I must put what I understand as his revealed will and desire in Scripture, first. My desire for faithfulness to Christ and honouring his Truth at times have conflicted with my desire to show grace and mercy. Kyrie Eleison

          • Will,

            The problem here with testing scripture with experience is not only the relative subjectivity of the latter, but also whether the cited experiences are of sufficient breadth and depth as to provide a valid deduction.

            The same Jesus, who encouraged us to ‘consider the lilies’, also ended his parable of the sower with the warning: ‘“Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.” (??Luke? ?8:18?)

            He followed this with the ‘wheat and tarts’ parable in which the farmhands were instructed to refrain from prematurely weeding out the darnel from the wheat (which, in early stages of growth, are very difficult to distinguish). Yet, the former imparts narcosis, while the latter provides sustenance.

            In terms of experience, we should consider the emerging ethos of LGBT advocacy in the Church, as the movement develops.

            We should ask:

            1. How can the supposed ‘good tree’ of same-sex marriage produce the bad fruit of being leveraged in numerous court cases by lesbian couples in order to gain preferential legal recognition as joint parents at the expense of the child’s known biological father?

            2. How can the supposed ‘good tree’ of declaring LGBT identities to be immutable produce the bad fruit of denying the scientific evidence of sexual identity fluidity and that ‘there is diversity in how individuals define and express their sexual orientation identity’ (APA Task Force:

            3. How can the supposed ‘good tree’ of Jayne Ozanne’s GS2070A PMM inform July Synod that, in contrast with CT, instead they [the medical profession] believe that the correct course of action is to provide gay affirmative therapy, when the APA Task Force Report which is cited as its scientific authority states: ‘Given that there is diversity in how individuals define and express their sexual orientation identity, an affirmative approach is supportive of clients’ identity development without an a priori treatment goal concerning how clients identify or live out their sexual orientation or spiritual beliefs.’?

            How can we ever call these adverse outcomes ‘good fruit’?

          • Simon Thank you. I am valuing this exchange but struggling to find the time to honour it as I would wish in my responses. A few thoughts.
            You write – ‘but experience – mine or the person I’m pastoring? Not really. I don’t trust it.’ Can I start there?
            1. I recently had a clear sense God was speaking me to while sitting on a cliff top in Wales. Should I simply not trust that experience?
            2. Would you say that you have never learned anything from experience you can trust?
            3. I think what we need is not the negative rejection of ‘suspect’ experience but learning to listen to it and to discern the good and the bad in it.
            4. When we open our bibles we always do so as people shaped, in the present, by complex and varied experiences of life, faith and relationships. There is no way to by-pass this nor should we. There is no ‘safe’, ‘untainted’ place where I can receive God’s word neat to then obediently impose on my ‘unruly’ desires and choices. Rather ‘Wisdom cries aloud in the market place’. We work out the business of obedience and faith in the midst of life’s experiences not by denying them. I confess to being a little concerned by the total negativity in your words above.
            5. Here I want to take a risk … I actually think the temptation to use experience to control scripture is not exclusive to those with including views. It is present in conservatives too. Let me illustrate. (and I am deliberately using experiences from elsewhere – not implying anything of others on this thread). I grew up in a white, British, middle class world and attended a single-sex public school. It was an educational culture centred around particular assumptions about what it meant to ‘be a man’. Toughness was ‘character forming’. Emotions were suspect and to be repressed. There was a deep anxiety about being thought ‘feminine’ or ‘weak’. Homophobic jokes were rife. Add to that my early Christian formation, including a man-centred, Bible College. In that world homosexuality drew very particular condemnation. It was the sin of sins: an ‘Abomination’. Sodom gave its name to it. Romans 1 expounded it. This was a given. No further discussion was needed, expected or welcomed.
            I am not alone when I say that ‘experience’ has not predisposed me to support of same-sex relationships at all. I am uncomfortable watching it on the TV. Many of my ‘including’ friends say the same. I recall an older man of impeccable, life-long evangelical credentials, who had steadily come to believe the scripture supported faithful same-sex relationships. But everything in his experience still led him to feel revolted by it. But he refused to let his experience control his interpretation of scripture. Revulsion, distress or anxiety are not measures of the rightness of any viewpoint. They may just be telling me I am revolted, anxious and distressed about an issue. Emotional anxiety is a huge inhibitor of the trusting, exploratory reflection scripture needs – and an even poorer guide to biblical truth. But it may explain why the most ‘objective’, academic discussion about the texts can arrive with a strong emotional undertow.
            This calls me to attend more carefully, not less, to my personal journey into a mature and secure awareness of – among others things – my own sexual identity and desires. My freedom to read and receive the truth of scripture will depend, in varying measure, on my willingness to make that journey at all.

          • I agree that we need to attend to our biases in order better to approach the truth.

            I would suggest though that in the current cultural climate the more seductive bias is towards embracing the zeitgeist, which includes the LGBT agenda.

            We do also need to be clear that no weight in the orthodox position is placed on any feelings we may or may not experience with respect to homosexuality. It is based purely on objective observations about the disordered nature of same-sex attraction and sex for the human organism, the co-morbidities which studies show accompany it, and the teaching of scripture about human sexuality and marriage.

          • Will So its ‘Yes we need to attend to our biases’ – but you and your ‘orthodox’ side don’t have any actually – or feelings. Is that right?

          • It’s not that we don’t have biases or feelings, it’s that the point of identifying them is in order to be able to set them aside in order to appreciate better the facts of the matter. Thus we must set aside equally any feelings of revulsion we might have and any feelings of empathy for our brothers and sisters in order to see the facts clearly. This is the nature of objective rational judgement, which is the only means we have of apprehending truth, and is what all good scholarship must aim at.

            So, setting aside any revulsion or empathy, we can engage our rational intellect to observe the following facts:

            1) The fundamental purpose of sex and the sexes in nature as sexual reproduction, providing a fundamental ordering principle which explains the complementary anatomy of human beings and implies the disordered nature of same-sex sexual relationships.
            2) The co-morbidities and consequences for children which studies show disproportionately accompany same-sex relationships and behaviour, and which can be understood to arise from their disordered nature.
            3) The teaching of scripture on sex and marriage in the form of the original meanings intended by its human authors.

            These are matters of fact which can be debated rationally. They can be isolated from any feelings or sentiments we may or may not have.

            I was brought up on a diet of the sexual revolution to believe there was nothing wrong with homosexuality. If anything I have a bias towards approving of same-sex marriage and at one point, out of empathy, almost did. It is rational argument and judgement which has convinced me of the truth of the matter, aside from how I might feel about it. We identify biases to eliminate them, not embrace them or declare them unavoidable.

      • Edited from my earlier comment:
        Hi David (R),

        Thanks for articulating the affirming case so clearly. In terms of Will’s assertion that the scriptural prohibitions of same-sex sexual relationships not being context-dependent, you wrote: ‘On the contrary, conservatives as well as inclusive biblical theologians are both concerned this must be so’.

        Again here, you ask rhetorically of the verses which condemn same-sex sexual activity ‘whether what is being condemned bears any resemblance to or has any relevance to contemporary faithful, living, same-sex relationships.’

        I have read some of your writing on the subject and I don’t think that you made out a strong case for the OT/NT context rendering the scriptural prohibitions inapplicable to today’s same-sex couples. Neverthelss, the CofE may eventually decide that the affirming case is persuasive enough to end the ban on clergy entering same-sex couples.

        As a comparison, the HoB declared that membership of the BNP or the National Front is incompatible with church teaching and that clergy would face disciplinary action for joining these organisations. It may be that, in the future, the Church relaxes its position on membership being incompatible with Church doctrine which clergy have a duty to uphold.

        To follow through on the example, the point is that even if someone made the case for ending prohibition, the theological case (scripture, tradition and reason) would still to be made for the Church to provide some sort of liturgy which represents the Church’s affirmation of membership of the BNP or National Front.

        So, returning to modern same-sex sexual relationships, even if you and others make the case for setting aside of scriptural prohibitions as inapplicable due the difference in context, that argument per se doesn’t amount to making the case for the Church to teach that such relationships are consonant with scripture, tradition and reason and should be affirmed through Church liturgy.

      • Bears *any* resemblance to?

        We could start with the fact that both concern the very precise topic of ‘sexual’ relationships between same gender.

        That is not just bearing *any* relationship to,it is bearing a central relationship to.

        You’ll admit that you spoke very loosely there,and may need to re-state your case?

      • Note that your reply here does not address my central point about the differences between the slavery case and the homosexual behaviour case.

        If things boil down to: Christians have changed before vis-a-vis how/whether they follow the pattern found in the bible, then that’s correct. But

        (1) The slavery case is a change of degree (fact of life or necessary evil to banned evil) rather than a 180 degree volte face.

        (2) If there has been change before, does that mean we can pick and choose where further change takes place?

        • Christopher I have previously tried to clarify on several occasions that my point here is not that slavery and same-sex relationships are ‘the same case’. I think you have used this or I have failed to make myself clear. My point is about how specific texts need to be interpreted in the light of the whole context of scripture. And through history the church has come to recognise the importance of this. I take this as self evident – given that we do not now support slavery on the basis of, not in spite of, the scriptures.

          • I disagree.

            1. You are ruling out in advance that different texts emanating from and/or addressing different circumstances may potentially disagree.

            2. Where there appears to be disagreement among texts, there will by your method (‘the whole context of scripture’) be the temptation to prioritise the one one prefers. That is a method that lacks controls and lacks rigour and often will lack honesty.

            3. in the present case (are homosexual genital acts sinful) there is not the slightest scriptural disagreement anyway.

          • Christopher

            And I disagree ….

            1. ‘You are ruling out in advance’. … How can you possibly know that? Christopher I never doubt for a moment the integrity of your faith and your desire to live in faithfulness and obedience to what scripture teaches. I am grateful to those who receive what I share here, even when we strongly disagree, trusting I aspire to the same integrity and biblical fidelity as them. If you are unable to believe that of me I doubt there is anything I can say to persuade you otherwise.
            2. ‘Where there appears to be disagreement among texts … there will be the temptation to prioritise the one one prefers.’ I agree that is possible. As fellow sinners that is a temptation we both need to be aware of isn’t it?
            3. ‘in the present case (are homosexual genital acts sinful)’. That is not what we have been discussing actually. But I note this is a concern you keep returning to. Human sexuality, intimacy, tenderness and love is something far more profound than what we do with our genitals. Indeed there is something oddly mechanistic and actually rationalist in attempts to insist the focus lies there at all.

          • Christopher’s point about ‘bears any resemblance’ is missed here.

            Instead, David Runcorn states that the point is about ‘‘whether what is being condemned bears any resemblance to or has any relevance to contemporary faithful, living, same-sex relationships’ has to do with ‘how specific texts need to be interpreted in the light of the whole context of scripture’.

            Christopher demonstrates the resemblance between modern same-sex sexual relationships and the prohibition of same-sex acts by stating ‘the fact that both concern the very precise topic of ‘sexual’ relationships between same gender’.

            Presumably, based on ‘the whole context of scripture’, David Runcorn bypasses that embodied resemblance (which he describes as ‘oddly mechanistic’ and ‘rationalist’ in focus) in order to focus on something ‘far more profound than what we do with our genitals’.

            Now, this is very disturbing, when ‘what we do with our genitals’ (the embodied ultimate expression of mutual sexual attraction) is considered to be less profound than intimacy, tenderness and love.

            It introduces a false Gnostic dualism whereby, in a sexual relationship, we can morally disconnect these virtues from how a person embodies them through sexual behaviour.

            And, if there’s any doubt that this is gnostic, then compare it with this piece by Gnostic scholar, Dr. Stephen A. Hoeller, concerning Eros and Gnosis:

            ‘Homosexuality, bisexuality, and androgyny.

            It is generally understood that at the non-physical level, people are not limited to their bodily gender. Jesus declared in the Gnostic scriptures that he “came to make the male and the female into a single one, so that the male will not be male and the female not be female.” [Gospel of Thomas Saying 22]

            We may take this to mean that in order to attain to the Wholeness of the Pleroma, all persons are striving toward a spiritual androgyny. In the hyletic phase of development this often manifests as polymorphous bisexuality, in the psychic phase as homosexuality, and in the pneumatic phase it moves increasingly into the area of a spiritually based androgyny. None of these are sinful or should be condemned in Gnostic thinking.

            The idea of a “crime against nature” is meaningless to the Gnostic, for our nature is not merely physical nature, such as our gender, but our total nature within which all dualities exist. When asked about homosexuality, the great modern Gnostic C.G. Jung merely said: “Well, they are the only people who are trying doing something against over-population.” The attraction of persons of the same gender toward each other meets with the most powerful taboos of the patriarchal-psychic phases of cultural development and is therefore encumbered by many unnecessary ideas and apprehensions.

            If you want to see where this anti-nomian thinking leads, then you can read Dr. Hoeller’s complete article here:

          • David Please read what I said more carefully. Your rather excitable argument is based on the opposite of what I said.

          • You can refute what I’ve written point by point, including where I, perhaps, mis-quoted you.

            How is my comment the ‘opposite’ of what you said? Or is that another overstatement?

          • I’ll leave it there thanks David. Like all false gnostic hyletic dualists I am content to by-pass all those patriarchal-psychic phases of cultural development leaving folk unencumbered by many unnecessary ideas and apprehensions and free to join in if they want here.

          • Well, to decline is indeed your prerogative and what ‘good disagreement’ is all about.

          • David R, what you describe as ‘what you do with your genitals’ is relatively trivial or secondary to you. Yet you would not exist without it. l can think of few things more primary. We have therefore, usefully, isolated a very central difference between what each of us is saying.

            I can justify my position and did so 3 sentences ago.

            Can you justify your position that this is a *relatively* trivial or secondary matter that is scarcely worth addressing at all in and of itself (indeed you marvel that someone keeps returning to it).

            (I should add that I do not at all believe in good disagreement, although obviously it is a lot better than bad disagreement – that is about all that there is to be said for it.)

            You also ascribe to me a desire for biblical fidelity and a desire to live in faithfulness and obedience to what scripture teaches. You have got the wrong person, but I need to unpack why. The truth is this: I find certain principles factually and logically correct and life-giving. It just so happens that these broadly coincide with those in the New Testament. Not that I consider that a coincidence. I think it is explained by the fact that the things/factors that made me think these principles right also caused the New Testament writers to think them right. No way do I think that being written in any given document *makes* something true, or for that matter untrue. What makes something true is its actually *being* true, corresponding to the facts. Being written down will not make it true or untrue if it isn’t – moreover, that is obvious. Anything true in the biblical writings, as in any book, will already have been true before the time of writing. Its truth is therefore independent of and not even related to the fact that it was later written down. If anyone says, aha! but you are forgetting the role of revelation, of the process actually being God meeting us and/or a larger reality overwhelming us and convincing and convicting us, then I am not forgetting it and I utterly affirm it.

          • Just before heading off on holiday may I reassure any concerned here that I do know what our physical bits are for and where babies come from. We covered that at youth club some years ago. But where that becomes a way of defining what we call human sexuality – that is what I call ‘mechanistic’ and ‘rationalist’. That is not to diminish embodied desire for a moment. But to have sex is one thing. To be made for love is quite another. We are embodied creatures with profound desires and longings, called to love and intimacy. And these energies in us are quite beyond what is ‘necessary’. We image God in this. I am not sure the youth club talk quite got to that point. But the journey has been part of my life and pilgrimage ever since.

          • David, I and others have made several different points, and some of the more important ones have not been responded to. But no-one even came close to making the point ‘David R does not know what genitals are and are for.’ Nor can one conceive why you imagine they did. This is therefore a good example of changing the subject. And when people change the subject they do so for a reason.

            Hope you have a really good holiday.

          • Christopher I am much relieved to know this thank you.
            As to me changing the subject – there is actually a great deal about genitals on this thread – very often from you. If I was changing the subject I would probably have started talking about cricket.

          • I too adore cricket,and to use a cricketing metaphor you have now achieved a hat-trick of non sequiturs. What are you much relieved to know – that you have been changing the subject, or that no-one doubts you know what genitals are? The former is not something to be proud of,while the latter is so unsurprising that no-one could be relieved to know it. And in neither case is the argument advanced a jot.

            Your second sentence is both facile and insulting, since people are bound to draw the obvious juvenile conclusions without seeking chapter and verse. You are in fact making the same mistake as Abp Griswold who blanched at descriptions of what homosexuals actually get up to,and how unhealthy it often is (and our point is that this central matter is what people are often so anxious to gloss over for obvious reasons, since otherwise their case would be destroyed) but despite blanching at it, continued to support it, an inconsistent and illogical (and life-threatening) stance.

          • Christopher It is very clear to me that we struggle to understand each other on this thread – either in serious debate or with my attempts at lightness and humour. But I have clearly offended you. That was not my intention and I apologise.

          • Thanks – I wasn’t speaking about being offended emotionally but about labelling someone as obsessed with mechanics etc when their object is to highlight dangerous practices and so save lives – the point being that they may appear to think name-calling etc is more important than saving the said lives.

            As for the misunderstanding point, I do agree. It is why I consider that the debate has scarcely begun, in the sense that there is a paucity of truth-seeking. I am only one debater, but the points I make reconfigure the debate and are too rarely understood or addressed – no doubt the same could be said of other debaters too. However, I do not consider the debate a worthwhile one but rather a waste of time. However, I do consider it important to spend time highlighting to others the reasons why it is a waste of time.

          • Four in four balls. I am absolutely obsessed with lowering the death rate, the STI rate, the PC, the dishonesty, the promiscuity.

            With highlighting that the people who believe homosexual ‘sex’ is ok also believe in almost all instances that extramarital sex is ok, so if you concede one you will concede the other.

            With highlighting the further consequence that having conceded both these things people will not stop at two partners, since the basic alternatives are one and many, making the difference between the two approaches (both tried, tested, and workable) utterly colossal.

            With highlighting the fact that if people go down that route, their decision to accept that norm will directly cause a massively increased number of children to have a broken family and therefore to be sadder, more depressed, suffer more from so-called mental health problems (also suffered from by very many of the promiscuous; and the promiscuous is a category which includes the vast majority of homosexual men).

            They will also be directly *promoting* the cause that is most of all socially in conflict with Christianity, according to surveys of configurations/sets of opinions.

            Shooting themselves in the foot and scoring an own goal are foolish things to do.
            But affirming normalisation of sexual-revolution behaviour destroys the lives of multiple third parties.

            The sexual revolution is also extremely bad for the souls and maturation of adults.

            Absolutely I am obessed as any caring person will naturally be. Just, the things I am obsessed by is not the same thing that playground taunts (not yours) would have it be.

  30. ‘Those who think the Bible includes same-sex relationships in its understanding of marriage are engaging in a major exercise in wishful thinking’.

    The reality is, people like me do not have the same conception of scriptural authority as you do. We don’t think that because marriage is represented in a certain way in certain passages, that that constitutes firm evidence of God’s will. We look to the big principles revealed in the bible and then apply them to the culturally specific stories and sayings to try and work out what a God of love requires. See this document for a concise outline of this position

    So for me, the ‘wishful thinking’ problem doesn’t arise, since I’m not engaged in what is in my opinion a tail-chasing exercise of trying to work out what ‘unified line’ a vast compendium of ancient texts takes on a particular social issue crossing the generations.

    The hard problem is, are conservatives prepared to be in communion with people who take this view? Currently, you are, and we are happy to be in communion with you. What do you want to do- fight for an official line which reflects your position and pretends diversity of opinion doesn’t exist, try to blitz such opinion out of existence for it is evil, or share the church with those with fundamentally different views, content that you won’t be forced to change your beliefs or practices since they can be perfectly well accomodated in an appropriately broad church structure?

    • Hi James.

      The Philip North affair shows what becomes of good disagreement for conservatives.

      The problem is not being in communion with you while you hold certain heretical views. It is being part of a church which has abandoned biblical teaching, and thus the Bible, on a core moral issue. It is when church teaching changes that the problem arises.

  31. There seems to be an assumption among some on the affirming side that all that is necessary for the church to affirm same-sex marriage is for the three direct references to homosexuality in the NT (Romans 1:26-7, 1Cor 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:9-11) to be shown to have a context which does not apply to modern same-sex relationships (permanent, stable, faithful, based on fixed orientation). Once that is combined with the purposes of marriage as companionship (Genesis 2:20) and avoiding sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 7:2) then, it is said, you have shown that the Bible affirms same-sex marriage.

    This is not correct, though. You don’t just need to show that scripture can in principle affirm same-sex marriage because it doesn’t forbid same-sex sex and same-sex relationships fulfil some of its purposes. You need to show that same-sex marriage is consistent with the whole biblical picture of marriage. Which means you need to remove the role that binary sexual differentiation plays in it at every point, and show how the Bible positively supports a gender neutral conception of marriage. So, for example, you need to show that the creation of humankind as male and female is separate from, or irrelevant to, the institution of marriage, despite Genesis 2:23-4, Matthew 19:4-6, Mark 10:6-9 and Ephesians 5:28-33. You need to show that Genesis 3:16 can be read, ‘Your desire shall be for your husband or wife’, Titus 2:4 can be read, ‘Encourage the young women to love their husbands or wives’, 1 Peter 3:7 can be read, ‘Husbands, in the same way, show consideration for your wives or husbands in your life together, paying honour to the woman (where applicable) as the weaker sex.’ You need to write (or interpret) out of the Bible any suggestion that gender has anything intrinsic to do with marriage. You need to show that the biblical authors did not intend to describe marriage in gendered terms, or if they did then that was not essential to the conception they were presenting. Otherwise you will not be able to avoid the charge that you are imposing your own ideas onto scripture, finding there what you want to be there, rather than hearing from it what the authors were intending to communicate. I suggest that this is an impossible task, and that, in the process, it will necessarily undermine the standing of scripture as the Christian authority in moral matters.

    It will be said that this no different from what we have done many times before. The main examples I have seen mentioned on this thread are: slavery, usury, evolution, contraception, divorce, women’s ordination. What I don’t think is sufficiently appreciated is the extent to which same-sex marriage differs from these cases in terms of their relationship to scripture. Very briefly:
    – Slavery: scripture takes a negative view of slavery, seeing freedom from slavery as a basic privilege of God’s people, asserting the equality of masters and slaves, and entreating Christian slaves to obtain their freedom where they can. This often led Christians to suppress or prohibit slavery, and ultimately to abolish it. Although many Christians appealed to scripture to defend slavery against abolitionists, the overall biblical picture of slavery is consistent with and points towards abolition.
    – Usury: There is no clear teaching on this in the NT. While the Catholic church forbade it, Calvin (and Henry VIII) supported it, drawing arguments from scripture.
    – Evolution: There is no clear teaching on this in the NT. Augustine was deploying non-historical readings of Genesis 1-2 in the 5th century. Prominent evangelical Thomas Chalmers formulated a version of evolution 20 years before Darwin.
    – Contraception: There is no clear teaching on this in the NT. Natural law arguments against it falter on the fallacy that sex must in every case be open to conception, appearing to rule out, say, sex for infertile couples. (Natural law arguments against same-sex sex rest on the design of the human being as male and female for mutual attraction, with sexual reproduction serving as the fundamental ordering principle (being the reason why sex and the sexes exist in nature) rather than regulating every sexual act within a well-ordered relationship.)
    – Divorce: The NT allows the possibility of divorce and remarriage in certain circumstances.
    – Women’s ordination: While the NT appears to prohibit women’s ministry (1 Timothy 2:11-2, 1 Corinthians 14:34-6), it also contains numerous examples of women leaders in various contexts, and generally affirms the place of women in the faith and the church. The prohibition can be understood as context dependent, particularly in view of Paul’s use of ‘I permit’ (1 Timothy 2:12), since he differentiates his own rules from those of the ‘the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 7:10.12.25). The overall picture of the role of women in the NT is consistent with women’s ordination.

    None of these come anywhere close to the kind of contortion, re-interpretation and editing of scripture that would be required to discover an affirmation of same-sex marriage within the Bible’s teaching on marriage. Sometimes I get the impression that people think all changes in church teaching are alike, and that if you can make one change you can make another. But that is obviously a flawed approach, since by that logic we could change anything if we felt like it. Every proposed change must be considered on its own merits, and in particular on its relationship to what the Bible says and how it should be interpreted (I assume that we live under the authority of scripture as otherwise we will simply change teaching depending on what we currently think is right in our own eyes).

    By these criteria, same-sex marriage is in a different galaxy to any other change that has been made in church teaching and practice. The authority of scripture could not survive this change.

    • Will ‘There seems to be an assumption among some on the affirming side that all that is necessary for the church to affirm same-sex marriage is for the three direct references to homosexuality in the NT to be shown to have a context which does not apply to modern same-sex relationships (permanent, stable, faithful, based on fixed orientation).’

      ‘all that is necessary ..’ No – that is not the ‘affirming’ position. This is a bit of simplistic summary. It is, of course, part of an accumulative argument – as yours is.

      ‘The overall picture of the role of women in the NT is consistent with women’s ordination’. I am curious how you interpret the texts that explicitly forbid women to teach and to be silent in church? Who decides the ‘overall picture’ in the NT is including of women rather than forbidding?

      But by the way – thank you for not calling us ‘revisionists’.

      • Do add to the summary to make it more accurate if you like. I think the subsequent points remain valid though.

        1 Timothy 2:12 uses the ‘I permit’ construction, so can be understood as a context limited point of church order. 1 Cor 14:34-6 appears from the context to be concerned not with teaching or ministry but with ensuring order in the exercise of spiritual gifts. 1 Cor 11:5 implies women may pray and prophesy, so we can assume the silence is specific to ensuring order by not interrupting worship to ask about meanings. The reference to shame also suggests a specific cultural context.

        The wider scriptural witness shows women leaders.

      • No not all of them. But not all heterosexual relationships are. I don’t think anyone is proposing to affirm any relationship unless it is permanent, faithful and therefore based on fixed orientation.

          • Nick – if your classification system (‘not all’,in your own words) allows for only two percentages,all and not all,then it is equating 0% with 99.9999%,both of which are ‘not all’.

            Yet there is,quite literally, *the world* of difference between those two percentages.Neither is a percentage germane to the present case. But your classification system still equates them.

            The regard for accuracy that effectively equates 0% with 99.99999% is the lowest regard for accuracy to be seen anywhere here. Would I be wrong in thinking that?

          • Christopher,

            I am not clear what you mean here. What I am saying is that a significant proportion of heterosexual relationships are neither permanent, faithful or stable and we do not affirm those. I am also saying the a significant proportion of homosexual relationships are permanent, faithful and stable.

            I am sorry that I do not have had numbers to put percentages on either statement.

          • Do you think it would change your argument if one lot was nearer 0% and the other lot nearer 99.9999%?

            How much discrepancy would there need to be before you conceded your point was invalid?

          • I take it that you believe that hetersexuals it is nearer 99.9999% and homosexuals nearer 0% are permanent, faithful and stable. If you believe that I suggest you need to get out more and meet the sort of real ordinary people the CofE is not touching.

            However, whatever the values they are irrelevant to my point.

          • Nick,I will list the errors in your reply:

            (1) ‘I take it’. No – I was speaking hypothetically. Necessarily so,since you continued to think that ‘not all’ was a meaningful statistical category,when in fact it ranges from 0% to practically 100%. My hypothetical question was intended to expose how that approach,being so potentially cavalier with massive statistical difference, unsurprisingly runs into problems. I will explain this point more if need be.

            (2) It would be no big deal if heterosexuals were nearer 99.999% and homosexuals nearer 0%,since ‘nearer’ is a weak comparative term. Those conditions would,for example,be fulfilled by heterosexuals being 50% and homosexuals 49.999%,i.e. practically the same. (Again,obviously, I am speaking hypothetically.)

            (3) How would I be able to meet enough people even if I did get out more – or needed to do so (remember – we have never met, so assumptions are dangerous)! – to be statistically significant? That would take a significant proportion of my lifetime,which is one of the many reasons why we need to rely on large-scale surveys.

            (4) The other people are not ‘real’,then? Are they unreal or non-existent?
            If other people are not to be classified as ‘ordinary’, that sounds like a pejorative classification,and I would reject it for that reason.

            (5) Whatever the values they are irrelevant??They could not be more relevant. Supposing that partnerships that do not so much need to be permanent, for the reason that children are not involved, are inclined to be less permanent on average? That wouldn’t be surprising.

            The figures:
            Bell and Weinberg 1978 (sample about 1000) reported 85% white homosexual males and 77% of black had had 50+ homosexual ‘partners’ to date.Of these 28% of white and 19% of black had had 1000+. This San Francisco bay area was atypical but as it emerged not nearly atypical enough. Kaslow 1987 (sample nearly 5000) found 69-83% gay men reported 50+lifetime sexual partners.Lever 1994 (sample 2500) found 2% of adult male homosexuals had had one lifetime sexual partner,57% 30+, 35% 100+. Van den Ven et al. 1997 (sample 2583) found 82% reported 50+lifetime partners,while nearly 50% reported 100+. Lifetime average came out at 251.

            CH Mercer et al. 2009 (sample 5168) found median numbers of partners for UK het- bi- homo- men respectively to be 2,7, 10 in the last 5 years.

            ES Rosenberg et al. BMC Public Health 11 found that of those homosexual men with a primary sexual partner 68% had at least 2 other partners per year.

            Summaries of peer-reviewed science on homosexual promiscuity e.g. in Gagnon 452-60 or ML Brown 382-6 converge in the following picture:
            Around 90% of homosexuals aren’t in a couple. Of those who are 10-25% were monogamous in the last year. A given het- couple is about 41 times more likely than a given homosexual couple to be monogamous. It is hard to find a faithful male pairing of over five years. McWhirter and Mattison (The Male Couple, 1985) found none at all of these. This meant that according to their own sample, it happens less than 1% of the time. The picture is even worse for lesbian couples in one respect,namely that they average two-thirds the relationship length of theirmale counterparts.

            This stark picture is not denied (and is celebrated sometimes) by Kirk/Madsen, Silverstein/White, Altman, Savage (gay activists).Clearly intolerance and resulting despair does not cause inability to form monogamous relationships. For several reasons:
            -Promiscuity does not decrease in the most gayfriendly places (NZ,Holland,Sweden);
            -JWs are also unpopular.Does that drive them to promiscuity?
            -Is it not that promiscuity means more and more varied sex (and rebellion) and is therefore perceived -inaccurately, but by then it is too late -to be more fun?

            But how does all this compare with married (heterosexual) couples? Even in the USA,the country worst-hit by the sexual revolution,and even as recently as the mid1990s,i.e. as much as 30 years into that revolution, 3 independent studies Laumann; Greeley; Wiederman agreed that 80% of married people had never been unfaithful to their present spouse.

            That’s why I said: how big do the discrepancies have to be before you consider them a significant factor?

          • Christopher,

            I could comment on your response, but that would not be productive as I fail to see the relevance of your argument.

            There are permanent stable faithful homosexual relationships – they exist. What proportion they are is of no relevance.

            There are impermanent unfaithful heterosexual relationships – they exist – some are married but I some are not. What proportion of heterosexual married and unmarried heterosexual relationships they are is of no relevance.

          • Hi Nick. Surely the point is that when you are blessing a relationship at its beginning you can’t know whether it is permanent and faithful, only what it aspires to be. In which case the statistics on the permanence and faithfulness of this type of relationship are all you have to go on as to whether this is the type of relationship that naturally (i.e. tends to) achieve permanence and faithfulness. The statistics therefore inform whether this is the kind of relationship that you want to bless and sanction, or whether what will actually happen is you will find yourself blessing large numbers of relationships which generally can’t achieve the basis on which you were prepared to bless them.

            Perhaps you will say it doesn’t matter how many make it as long as some do and all were aspiring to it. You would then seem to be blessing aspiration rather than likely reality. But either way, this is why the statistics on permanence and faithfulness are relevant to the question of whether to sanction same-sex relationships on the basis that they are permanent and faithful.

          • An interesting point. I know you have raised the statistics before and I had not previously understood why. It is really good to understand that now.

            However, God deals with people, not statistics. I would not seek to make a judgement about permanence of the relationship etc based on statistics, but based on discussion will the couple concerned, just as with a heterosexual marriage.

            While in the CofE, clergy cannot refuse to marry those with the appropriate qualifications, most clergy do spend time with the couples. Clergy who do this have told me of couples who after this counselling decided it was not right for them to marry.

          • Nick – you are saying that proportion is of no relevance.

            That means that 0% is no different from 100%. Increases of 1000% are the same as decreases of 1000%. 28% is the same as 81%.

            That means that even *opposites* are the same.

            Nothing, therefore, can be less true than your position on this particular matter.

            Headlines are full of 1% this, 1% that. But the percentage differences I highlighted are colossal, not 1%.

            There is no logic in your position. Are you saying that the percentage differences do not matter because to look them in the face would put an end to your imagining that your stance is a possible one to take?

            This is the reductio ad absurdum: your position fails, because not only is it incapable of addressing percentage differences, it is actually trying (or forced?) to claim, rather ostrich-like, that extremely large percentage positions are not there. The debate is lost and won.

          • “you are saying that proportion is of no relevance.

            That means that 0% is no different from 100%. Increases of 1000% are the same as decreases of 1000%. 28% is the same as 81%.”

            As you will see from my post I had ruled out 0% and 100%. You post then inexplicably jumps to some conclusion that I am questioning the whole basis of mathematics.

            What I am saying is that once you have ruled out 0% and 100% the percentages are of no relevance to the argument.

          • So – once you have ruled out 0% and 100%, it is theoretically possible to have a case where 0.1% plays 99.9%. As I understand you, you would treat these two percentages on a par, since that is what you have yourself just said. But that is barmy in excelsis, and we both know it.

            The example I gave was 28% and 81%. What about those two? Are they (a) the same or (b) different?

            A five year old who said 28=81 is marked wrong. But few five year olds would be so unintelligent.

            Your position (that practically all percentages are the same as each other) is as wrong as any position can be, and all readers can certainly see that.

            But once we admit the obvious – that it is wrong – then it can be seen that we have been obviously right to be opposed to male homosexual practice. Which is why people have gone to every possible length (even to the length of displaying a lesser mathematical knowledge than that of a 5 year old) to avoid this obvious and unwelcome conclusion.

          • Christopher we are obviously not understanding each other. Clearly 28 does not equal 81 and I have never suggested as such. I simply suggested that the percentage was irrelevant to the point in question.

            If I might take some random examples to illustrate the concept.

            The proportion of people drinking coffee after church in the UK is not relevant to the gross domestic of Albania.

            I think everyone would agree that the per capita consumption of margarine consumed is irrelevant to the divorce rate in the State of Maine. That does not say anything about the numbers concerned, just that margarine consumption is an irrelevant fact

            All I am suggesting is that provided there some permanent, faithful and stable same sex relationships, the proportion of same sex relationships that are permanent, faithful and stable is of no relevance.

            If you want to play the mathematics game, by the way, you can show that the he per capita consumption of margarine consumed is highly correlated to the divorce rate in the State of Maine (r=0.992558) see That does not make it relevant though!

          • Nick, there is not one ‘mathematics game’ but several since there are several branches of maths.

            Speaking mathematically is not playing a game. Did you think it was? We are allowed to call in aid any of the disciplines – and the more the better. Did you think people should be banned from speaking of maths, that when they do so it is all a game?

            The burden of your reply is that I am comparing apples and oranges. I want to make sure you are an honest person. Do you accept from the papers cited above that homosexual men are on average considerably more promiscuous than the average? Or do you reject it?

            If you reject it, which papers are you relying on?

            Many thanks.

          • This will be the last contribution on this issue since you clearly do not understand what I am saying. I feel that further discussion would be a waste of time for both of us.

            To answer your question. I do not affirm or dispute those figures I simply say that they are irrelevant to the point in question.

            I trust my time has not been totally wasted and that others, at least, have understood, if not agreed, with my point.

        • So – in summary:

          You say I am making one point when it is clear that I am making several.

          You unilaterally (without consultation) decide to close the conversation at just the point when the difficult questions are building up.

          You ‘simply say’ that the points are irrelevant – but to ‘simply say’ is an unsupported assertion.

          Further discussion cannot by definition be a waste of time: quite the reverse, since the more discussion takes place, the nearer to the truth we get.

          The huge average discrepancies between levels of male homosexual promiscuity and of other promiscuity remain a huge issue. It is unbelievable that so large an issue is still being sidestepped. As to the reasons that it is being sidestepped, they are not hard to guess. But sidestepping is not an honest practice, and the fashionable position is exposed. It has lost the argument, since engaging and losing would be a better contribution than simply never turning up at the debate (or this particular part of the debate) at all.

          Given that it has lost the argument, I wonder whether any other contributors have any words to say about levels of male homosexual promiscuity and why they are so different from the average levels found in the rest of society. People have been noticing the avoidance of this question for years, just as they have been noticing the avoidance of what unhealthy and lethal practices are actually indulged in. Every time these 2 issues are avoided, they show how comprehensively you have lost the argument, since even the initial point of even stepping up to the plate has not yet been reached.

    • Will, you say the NT allows divorce and remarriage in certain circumstances. This is so; I am less sure that the likely original words of Jesus unedited are sufficiently likely to do so. Mark seems to take us furthest back towards these.

      Secondly, I am not convinced that the kinds of divorce now nodded through are covered by the NT exceptions.

  32. David, if you revise the almost 2 millennia old traditional and universal interpretation of Scripture, isn’t that being revisionist?

    • Simon,

      You’re right. In contrast, we’re meant to accept guilt-by-association ‘literalist’ epithet with its negative connotations (e.g. theological Luddites who reject evolution, etc.) but without complaint.

      We don’t have to participate in the concerted re-branding exercise. Let’s call a spade a spade and one seeking revision a revisionist!

      • Yep. No problem with that. I’m a revisionist. As is Ian.
        But I also consider myself traditional and orthodox.
        There us no contradiction.

        • Why not just be an evidence-based person? It is not even remotely possible to be a traditionalist, or a revisionist, in every single matter.

  33. Simon and David (S),

    It seems to me to that if we are to maintain a friendly discourse it is unhelpful to use labels which have negative connotations for either side. David Runcorn did not complain about the language, but rather, thanked Will for not using the term revisionist and has not used the literalist term himself in this page.

    For one side I would tend to use ‘ those who hold a tradition view’ or I suppose ‘traditionalist’ as a shorthand.

    For the other side I would hesitate to use the word ‘liberal’ as many in the camp regard themselves as evangelicals and would not regard themselves as liberals in the way it generally used in the church. ‘Those who affirm SSR’ seems neutral, but there is no obvious shorthand.

    Jezz described himself as agnostic – which to me implies he does not care – I would rather use the term ‘undecided’.

    • Hi Nick

      I object to traditional because it suggests it is just a matter of tradition i.e. no objective basis.

      I would say I support the orthodox position. I do think revisionist is a fair term, but will use terms like affirming sometimes to avoid causing irritation. However l haven’t found many affirming supporters prepared to use the term orthodox for us, except in quote marks!

      • Will I am in no doubt you think you are orthodox. Nor do i challenge it. But in this context people claim this in opposition to those they disagree with – i.e. they must be unorthodox or heretical. No thanks. I think I am orthodox too. So if it comes to a name or label that makes a useful distinctions here it actually doesn’t.

    • Tradition-based and ‘revisionist’ or liberal positions are untenable in any circumstances becasue they are treating the key issue as whether something is new or old (which, far from being the key issue, is an issue of no relevance at all) rather than as what the evidence says.

      Chronological snobbery is not just an ideology, and therefore anti-scholarly, but one of the least intelligent ideologies).

      Till that actually quite simple point is grasped, the debate has not even begun. We should classify in terms of faithfulness to the data.

    • Whether positions are traditional or liberal is pretty much the least relevant thing about them, and to think otherwise is the chronological snobbery fallacy. The only thing that matters is that positions are evidence-based. Failure to grasp that point has led to colossal timewaste, colossal moneywaste, and worst of all indabas.

  34. Will, I’ve simply not had time to engage with your piece or many of the comments except to notice that you’ve gone far beyond the call of duty in your responses.

    It pays sometimes to step right back from an issue (not least those which exercise Christians) and start with the fundamentals which are rock solid to any rational mind. And we should first remind ourselves that a scrupulously honest acceptance of truth (to the detriment of all else if necessary) is essential if our minds are to retain any hope of remaining and improving their ability to think rationally. Once you settle for a bit of tweaking to this principle for the sake of any particular cause or pressure (very often, a wish to belong to some particular group of people) your ability to think rationally starts to diminish – perhaps progressively, so that you might at worst case become unable to recognise truth at all, yet alone accept it..

    But there is one unique revelation of truth which isn’t available solely on the basis of rationality (however great your intellect) and that is God himself because he is the originator of all the temporal (earthly) truth we are able to know, and therefore is outside of it himself; it’s his gift, purely at his own will, to reveal himself to us. Thereafter, if we receive him, we become able to see things in a different light, from a different perspective. But that does not mean rationality is discarded; if anything it is enhanced, not by making us more intelligent but by extending what we can comprehend into the new world into which we have been spiritually born – we live in two worlds at once, and the eternal insights (although not yet fully revealed) can only serve to enlighten the temporal insights.

    All of which is a roundabout way of suggesting that the whole sexuality debate amongst us Christians hinges on
    our ability (or even our willingness?) to comprehend both temporal (earthly) and eternal (heavenly) facts, knowing that neither will undermine the other because both are ordained by the one Lord of all.

    All our scientific understanding (thus far) tells us that human reproduction is sexual, that binary sexual difference is so deep seated that it lies (as sex chromosome pairs, XX or XY) at the heart of every human cell with a nucleus, and that activity between two people of the same sex is irrelevant to the function (purpose) of sexual identity (male or female). Attraction and the urge for sexual activity happens in the brain and it is there that we have to look for how and why it responds predominantly correctly (attraction to the opposite sex) or, for 1% to 2% of people, incorrectly (same sex attraction). But the brain is hugely complex within itself and is also affected by a huge variety of inputs which are external to itself (either from within the body or outside of it). In short, no straightforward scientific causes have been identified which might give easy answers to all the questions surrounding human same sex attraction; perhaps they might be one day or perhaps the possible permutations and combinations (of an individual’s brain structure and the infinite possibilities of outside stimuli) are just too numerous ever to give us definite answers. Thus statements such as ‘people are born gay’ or ‘gay attraction is immutable’ are not at this point scientifically (including psychology) justifiable. At best they are assertions which probably arise more from the well known socio-political movements of our present time than any best guess of objective science; at worst they are deliberate propaganda which should carry no weight in objective discussion.

    Social science will show frequent discrimination against homosexual people and sometimes revulsion at homosexual practice. Again it is pretty likely that some of this reaction is cultural (learned from others), some will be the normal prejudice against any small minority, and one might consider the possibility of an instinctive (genetically inherited) dislike as, for example, the distaste for the smell of faeces (which presumably protects people against bacterial infection). Suffice it to say that Christians should never be party to unjust discrimination, bullying or ignorant prejudice, but that approach cannot justify affirmation or even celebration of something which is clearly at odds with scripture; the scope for being ‘misunderstood’ here is probably an experience that few of us who have bothered to engage in this debate have been fortunate enough to escape!

    And how does God view same sex attraction and activity? I think we Christians should approach this via the fundamental God-designed institution of marriage because we know (as Jesus confirmed) that this is what God had in mind for the mutual benefit of men and women in pairs – anything else leads to endless tangles because there is no benchmark against which a point of view can be assessed. Christians will (unless you are relaxed about Civil Partnerships) discount sex outside of marriage as being against God’s wishes for people – therefore we cannot condone, endorse or offer blessings for situations which involve that activity. So we are left with marriage which, being between a man and a woman, is a biological and psychological sexual paring however much or little physical activity occurs.

    Anyone who, like David Cameron, suggests that marriage is about ‘love and commitment’ is describing something which may well be positive and desirable but which has left out the essence of marriage which is the coming together of the 2 opposite sexes to make a functionally new type of dynamic relationship (both physical and psychological) which has a unique completeness in itself. And once you dilute marriage down in that way you can indeed describe all manner of relationships as “marriage”, thereby dispensing a legitimate right (and society’s endorsement) to sexual activity wherever you fancy it – and that’s more or less where we now are, with no rational basis left to draw any lines at all (save, possibly, protection of young children).

    Slavery is a totally different issue. It is an economic or social arrangement, not a biologically imbedded necessity for human reproduction. But it also happens to be a word covering a multitude of situations from benign mutual benefit to vicious exploitation. While we Christians understand that God instituted and defined marriage, we accept that on many other issues he allows human beings to work out for themselves where and how freedom, prohibition and justice should be applied. And because human technology is cumulative the politics and economics of societies do change over time and this has a bearing on what is deemed justifiable or acceptable as things progress. The idea that a God who sees a sparrow fall is indifferent to (and may even approve of) human suffering at the hand of others is not a credible biblical argument.

    So arguments linking changes in attitude to slavery with attitudes on homosexuality are only helpful for Christians in the broadest sense: pointing out the difference between issues where every rational observation causes us to accept God’s clear intention (obedience) from issues where he allows us humans to think through what is right for ourselves (discernment).

    With sincere apologies for a long spiel, having not read most of the erudite comments above.

    • Hi Don. I agree. You would have thought it was obvious that a lack attraction to the opposite sex was a disorder or disability in relation to the basic biological function of reproduction.

      • It is interesting how often you sound like Richard Dawkins. I don’t believe we are simply oraganisms ‘programmed’ to the survival of our genes. Therefore sexual attraction is a delight of the creator God, not a function of the blind watchmaker.

        • Hi Penelope.

          You surely mean sexual delight rather than sexual attraction – frustrated sexual attraction is rarely delightful!

          Also surely not all sexual attraction/delight can be delightful to God as some is immoral (e.g. where abusive) or disordered (e.g. towards family members). So you already have some standards for appropriate sexual attraction/delight.

          You would also, I believe, agree that sexual relationships ought to be permanent and faithful, so there is another parameter.

          So it turns out God is more particular about the sexual attraction he delights in after all.

          So we need some way of discovering what forms of sexual delight he does and doesn’t delight in. We have two ways: reason and revelation. Both of these agree that what God delights in is when sex is enjoyed in line with the basic purpose he gave it in nature, with his design of the human being, and with the moral law. Not just any old attraction and delight will do.

          • Hi Will
            Good point. There are places in scripture, particularly in the Hebrew bible where God appears to bless incest and rape (the Patriarchs for example). So reason and (continuing revelation) are hugely important in Christian ethics. I suppose the difference is that you and I disagree with what the basic purpose He gave it in nature is, and with what moral law teaches.

          • Will Your approach here (and earlier) to sexual desire and its expression is what I have elsewhere suggested could be understood as rather mechanistic and actually rationalist.

          • Hi David. Those are just names, not an argument!

            It is a rational position. It is also based on observation.

            It is rooted in the design of the human being, its anatomy and inherent purposes. That design includes ‘mechanisms’. That comes with being material beings.
            I don’t really see your point.

    • All this talk of whether homosexual behaviour is natural or not seems to have little root in scripture. In this thread there seems to be an underlying theme that the aim of humankind is to reproduce. It seems to me that this comes more from the concepts of evolution by natural selection rather than anything biblical, and Dawkins’ selfish gene than from the Bible.

      I am reminded of the response from Westminster Shorter Catechism ” Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

      Sure Noah and his family were instructed to “be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it” (Gen 9:7). But I think we have largely filled the earth now. Those societies that where people rely on many children to provide for their welfare in old age are often those where homosexuality (as well as contraception) is most taboo.

      Some scientific studies of reproductive behaviour in animals, suggest that some species may have built in mechanisms to manage the population before it comes to a crash. This is an area about which we know very little. The more we learn about nature the more we realise how much we do not know (and therefore the more we understand the greatness of its creator).

      I would find it difficult to justify a statement that says homosexual behaviour as perfectly natural, but equally I cannot find any basis for saying that it is unnatural. I suppose I am using the good old Scottish verdict of not proven.

      • Hi Nick.

        Romans 1:26-7 describes homosexuality as unnatural. ‘Nature’ is just the same as creation: unnatural just means contrary to creation i.e. to God’s design of nature and the human being. Genesis describes human beings as created male and female for union in marriage as one flesh, and this is repeated by Jesus and Paul.

        The point about procreation is that the fundamental purpose of sex and the sexes, the reason they exist in nature, is for sexual reproduction. That’s why men and women have complementary anatomy.

        I think you’re suggesting homosexuality may be a natural mechanism for limiting human population? That is a strange argument. No other species limits its population like that! It also isn’t very effective as there isn’t enough of it. And would it then disappear again when population had sufficiently declined? This all seems a bit fanciful and speculative. But either way, scripture gives us God’s account of his intentions for human relationships and his negative view of homosexuality.

      • Hi again Nick. A couple of points.

        1. The Bible does not require that itself, and only itself, be the sole and exclusive standard for discerning Truth in this world. If this were the case, there would be no Christian Scientists. I think you present the case as if some of us are falsely ‘choosing the scientific over the scriptural’. We are not, we take and affirm both.

        2. Similarly, having scripture as the ‘root’ does not mean you always have to start there. Scripture is quite plain that reasoning (exercising our reason) is a vital aspect of our what it means to be human. You are not being unfaithful to it if you look outside scripture for evidence, or if that evidence, once found, brings you closer to discovering the truth in scripture. They are often in conflict, and part of the human purpose is to resolve those conflicts.

        3. Therefore the argument being made above, by Will, Myself and others is not soley that “The bible says X and it is 100% clear on this…”, but rather, “The bible says X and we trust this to be the case because human reason confirms it.”

        Your last point, more a question I felt than an assertion, about Homosexuality being a natural mechanism is an odd one. I do not think this is the case, and you’re probably right, it would be very difficult to find a biblical precedent for the idea. I’d just like to throw out an un-provable assertion of my own that you might enjoy….

        While, for Noah, his commission to multiply and populate the earth applied to only the ‘earth’ (assuming of course you would take ‘earth’ literally) Adam’s commission applied to the entire created order, part of which includes the stars int he sky, the sun, the moon, the entire universe… What makes you so certain that human expansion was God-determined to end with our own planet?


        • Hi Mat…

          As an observer I’m struggling with “The bible says X and we trust this to be the case because human reason confirms it.”.

          What is your understanding of authority and the Bible? Can scripture ever challenge human reasoning and take precedence? I’m unconvinced that reasoning is as clinically correct as you seem to imply. Certainly science is more about evolving theory than final absolutes.

          I do think that scientific research should make us ask hard questions about our understanding of the Bible….but you seem to put reasoning on a level (or higher) playing field with revelation in a way that it carries no actual authority…or am I misunderstanding?


          • I was generalizing, and so I appreciate it wasn’t clear.

            I will answer your last question first: No, I would not put reasoning ‘above’ revelation in priority, I would hold them together. Revelation without reason is dictation, reason without revelation is relativism. My intent was to show that people are not making a choice between that false binary; we may be privileging one, but we are not ignoring the other…

            I think I answered your other questions above in other comments, if not perhaps as well as you’d like. I’m sorry to ‘cop-out’ on answering more fully, but debating the authority of scripture is an important, but far removed debate from the one about slavery this article was making. The comments section is already bloated beyond helpfulness….


        • Christopher,

          “I think you’re suggesting homosexuality may be a natural mechanism for limiting human population? That is a strange argument. No other species limits its population like that! It also isn’t very effective as there isn’t enough of it. And would it then disappear again when population had sufficiently declined? This all seems a bit fanciful and speculative.”

          Really? Try this study (Hammock, James Robert, “Behavioral changes due to overpopulation in mice” (1971). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 1429.

          The paper cites others that found similar findings. It also states that homosexuality in animals is “not uncommon”.


          “Your last point, more a question I felt than an assertion, about Homosexuality being a natural mechanism is an odd one. I do not think this is the case, and you’re probably right, it would be very difficult to find a biblical precedent for the idea”

          It was indeed more a question than an assertion and I am pleased that you noticed that, though as you see above it is not without some foundation in the animal world.

          • Hi Nick

            That paper states:
            ‘With the lack of overpopulation there was no observed… increase in homosexual behavior in any group.’ (p28)

            The populations seemed to control themselves largely through infanticide and neglect. Though the author admits that his discovery of natural population control contradicted all previous experiments on overpopulation and needed further testing.

            Increased homosexuality in response to overpopulation was famously observed by Calhoun (1962). But that was not part of population control but one of a number of pathological behaviours which emerged in conditions of overpopulation and quickly led to the catastrophic extinction of the population. (See e.g.'s_experiment.html).

            There really is no basis here for regarding homosexuality as part of natural population control.

            And that’s not even to consider the differences between rodents and humans!

          • Thanks, Nick. I was not the contributor in question in fact. I think your reply above on mice was to some words of someone else.

    • Don
      However benevolent a slave master, slavery was never for benign mutual benefit.
      Slaves were owned, sold and separated from their families, even when they weren’t beaten or raped.

      Owning another human being is abhorrent and apologias for ‘biblical’ slavery are unhistorical and disingenuous.

      • To All on this blog – I won’t enter into the Human slavery debate which has shown a history of evil in the heart of man from time immemorial but isn’t it noteworthy that everywhere in the NT – I stand to be corrected here but I think I am right – it is as a slave (‘doulos’) that Paul describes himself under Christ and not as a servant (‘pais’). He apparently thought that we also should consider ourselves such. Gives pause for thought, doesn’t it?

      • Penelope. Different question. Just out of interest can you explain:

        1) Why you oppose sex outside of permanent faithful relationships.

        2) Why you oppose polyamorous relationships.


        • Thanks Will.
          Tough questions. I don’t always oppose sexual relationships that aren’t PFS, so long as they don’t involve infidelity. Some people have a number of relationships before ‘settling down’, but that doesn’t necessarily make them promiscuous or immoral. Prince William?
          Sex ‘outside’ PFS relationships is adultery.
          I think there have been cultures in which polyamory has been permissible (though the ethos is a bit ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’). I oppose polyamory because it, inevitably, condones infidelity and, often, creates pain and hurt. Mainly to the adults involved. Perhaps also to children. But then the modern nuclear family is fairly recent (and Western). Children also seem to thrive in looser kinship groups. I’m also wary of letting my personal taste affect my ethics, but relationships which aren’t exclusive do seem damaging.

          • Penelope – I think we do need to remember that the bipartisan element in marriage is based on gender but if gender is removed there is no need to stick to two if all parties are agreed and committed and faithful No? I’m not sure if you have reasons against but do understand the personal taste element you mention.

          • Thanks, that’s interesting. So you’re not defending a principle that sexual relationships ought to be PSF. Though they all ought to be faithful, so you rule out open marriages/relationships?

            When should a relationship become permanent? Is it just when the couple choose to mutually commit to it? Are there any external standards which suggest when that should be? Do children make any difference to that?

          • No, I was just saying that if you remove gender from the understanding of marriage then there is no logical reason for it being bipartisan. I raised this with the Scottish Professor who introduced the same-sex issue to the General Assembly but he said that polygamy had a long history (jacob etc) and he wouldn’t support it. I think that is probably the kind of reply Church people in support of the present moves would give but I think at the moment it seems like one step at a time and we’ll see where it goes but possibly Penelope would say otherwise.

            For the theological among contributors the reflection I have had there is on the nature of the doctrine of the Church as the Bride of Christ and whether a change in theological stance on Same-sex issues affects it. I understand that in same-sex marriages there is a desire to move away from husband/wife terminology and two men will commonly refer to each other now as “husbands”. My reflection is that the Church might be nudged to be seen as on a par or an equivalency with Christ if not explicitly then the beginnings of a guidepath in its thinking such that in its nature and authority it becomes a kind of alter ego to Christ.

          • Penelope, I can’t work out how your model works in practice. A male and a female ‘fall into’ a sexual relationship, later move in together and become I suppose relatively permanent and/or stable at least for the next couple of years or months.

            But this is not planned or well-organised.

            Nor is it even remotely possible outside of marriage to say or measure what is and is not permanent.

            A recipe for chaos in one sense then: that definitions become impossibly complicated.

            But also in another sense: that those who become accustomed to falling in and out of sexual relationships are unlikely ever to be capable of stable.

            And also in a third sense: that typically stable, or typically permanent, types of sexual relationship do not exist. Other than marriage.

            And also in a fourth sense: that if you want something to be stable and/or faithful and/or permanent, that cannot be so unless it is in some way formalised, i.e. there is some way of demonstrating that it actually *is* PSF. Marriage is what makes something PS or F. That is the whole point that marriage was invented for. You can say that not marrying is not keeping options open. Unfortunately this is a lie because non-marriage relationships on average and on aggregate have a massively worse track record of stability. Everyone can cite counter-examples, but that is because there are so many millions of people. Broadly, that is the case.

            You are saying a complicated and confusing system that lets people keep their options open (i.e. be unfaithful or transient) is better than a stable one that we had 60 years ago. What rubbish – it is obvious which one is better and produces miles better results in terms of children living with their own mum and dad.

          • Penelope, just to clarify my response was to you. Sorry for the interrogation! Just interested in how you approach these things.

            It does make me realise that we’re not really talking about the same thing here. I’m talking about the proper context for a sexual relationship, but you’re talking about something else, and have different parameters for sexual relationships. Doesn’t help in understanding each other!

          • Hi Mac
            On the contrary. ‘Natural Law’ indicates that polyamory, specifically polygyny, is the most efficient means of procreation (for humans) especially since, besides being pregnant for nine months, childbirth was a very risky business.
            Whereas, the relatively modern concept of companionate marriage is (or at least can potentially be) gender neutral.

          • Hi Will
            I would say that PFS is the ideal (which we all know does fail – adultery, desertion, divorce). But many people/couples, including Christians, enjoy sexual relationships before marriage. I am not arguing that what happens is the arbiter of what’s good, but, contrary to what is often asserted about the so-called permissive society, I do not believe that pre-marital sex is necessarily immoral or unwise. For couples who live together before marriage, we could ask when the marriage ‘happens’. It may not be at the wedding.
            Possibly couples decide when the marriage happens, or the relationship becomes permanent; since we, generally, don’t have arranged marriages.
            I believe that PFS marriage (straight or gay) is the right context for children. Though, I may be influenced by my culture. It wasn’t always seen as the appropriate context.

          • Christopher
            I am not saying what you assert.
            Did you watch ‘The Man in the Orange Shirt’ last night?

          • Hi Penelope – I couldn’t understand what you you were saying in your last post to me. Perhaps you could spell it out a bit more. What I mean is I didn’t see it relating to what I’d said.

          • Thanks Penelope. And are you opposed to open marriages? Research shows around half of same-sex marriages in Sweden are open. (I don’t know the figure for natural marriages.) Do you regard this as immoral, unwise, or dependent on those involved?

          • Hi Penelope

            There are several separate parts to my response. Most of these are extremely relevant to your positive view of some extramarital relationships. In my view that stance is rarely thought-through – hence my points.

            You say I’m not saying what you assert, but I am not asserting one thing, nor two, nor three, but more. Of these things, which are you saying and which are you not saying? Thanks.

          • I didn’t watch The Man In The Orange Shirt. Generally speaking my view is that life would have been easier had bright young things not made various kinds of naughtiness and rebellion fashionable in the Twenties. Once things are normalised, untold lives are affected, because we are creatures of habit, and once habits become ingrained…. But they will only become ingrained in the first place if they are possible options within a given society, that have ever occurred to people. These tragic stories are told, but I wonder if they are told nearly so much within societies where that normalisation is not part of recent history. Otherwise, why do we not hear of them?

            We are supposed to feel very sorry for multiple people, and in given cases we ought to do so. But if gay is inborn how come this is so much more an issue now than then? It is made an issue to a large extent by normalisation and social construction.

          • Incidentally, natural law doesn’t suggest polygamy as optimal for human reproduction. That’s because a basic principle of the natural law is the dignity of humankind as the rational animal made in the image of God. That implies a basic equality. Since humans generate at 50% male and female, that means each person should have their own spouse so that: a) there are enough to go round, b) women are in a position of equality, c) children are in a position of equality. What is optimal for human reproduction is not necessarily what is most efficient for producing numbers of offspring.

          • Mac, hi.
            I said, I think, that other gender marriage is more prone to being polyamorous than same gender marriage because of the procreative efficiency of the former.

          • Hi Will
            I am opposed to open marriage. It’s not PFS.
            I think polygyny is optimal for human reproduction. Whether it is immoral is another question.

          • Hi Christopher
            I did not condone unfaithful relationships

            Secondly, I am surprised that someone who cares so much about data and evidence believes that the man in the orange shirt is about bright young things, rebellion, naughtiness or the ‘twenties.

            It is the story of a young man in the post-war period who falls in love with another man, but believes that it is morally ‘better’ to marry a woman he neither loves nor desires. Thereby making three people unhappy.

            This not wise or good or decent or moral. Which was why partial decriminalisation was a start.

          • Hi Penelope.

            Why do you oppose open relationships – is it because you don’t consider them faithful, even though the external activity is consensual? Is faithfulness in sexual relationships a basic principle for you or does it rest on something else e.g. well-being or God’s character?

            If polygamy is immoral then it can’t be optimal under the natural law, which includes moral concerns. It might be numerically most efficient, but that is a different thing, and not what natural law means.

          • Penelope, where did I say that The Man in the Orange Shirt was about any of those things?

            I did not watch it and had never previously heard of it. So I do not know what it was about, apart from seeing a brief summary that it was a WWII thing.

            I am not remotely in a position to assess it. The closest thing that I do know is that the 1920s privileged counterculture made homosexual behaviour part of the landscape for their own and succeeding generations. Had they not done so, a lot more people would have grown up without HB occurring to them as an option.

          • Oh dear Penelope, you are getting bombarded with responses. I don’t want to add too much just that I think the statistical investigations show that promiscuity is far greater among gay men than straights but whether gay or straight promiscuity is not the best.
            Every one has a father and a mother. The ideal is that that father and mother love each other and are faithful to one another. Nothing can beat that. I hope that is something both of us could agree upon.

          • Also, you said earlier that polyamory unavoidably leads to infidelity. Why do you say that – is it because you consider the presence of more than two in the relationship to be intrinsically unfaithful, or because of inherent tendencies in polyamorous relationships towards infidelity?

          • Christopher
            Your answer to my question was about the naughtiness of the bright young things. Natural. I assumed you were talking about the thing I had a question about.

          • Christopher
            Also, perhaps, in addition to The Man in the Orange Shirt, you could listen to the programme on radio 4 this morning at 9 a.m. It suggests that homosexuality was quite rife in Britain before the 1920s.

          • Hi Will
            Open relationships, although consensual, inevitably involve infidelity and, often, hurt.
            Yes, I do consider more than two in a relationship to be intrinsically unfaithful. Is this immoral? Probably. Although a 19thC Archbishop lived quite happily in a ménage a trios.

          • I am sure that it was rife then too. My only point is that the degree to which it is rife (and, more importantly, not rife) is thoroughly connected to cultural factors and formative experiences.

          • Hi Christopher
            So why was male same-sex sex proportionately more prevalent than it is today, among working class men in Yorkshire (and 2 other counties, can’t remember which 2) in the 19th C?
            What cultural factors and formative experiences were in play?

          • I am not enough of an historian to say. Having to travel miles to find a woman? This kind of stat proves that levels are not uniform through different cultures as believers in ‘born gay’ would have us believe.

          • Christopher
            I am not enough of an historian to say either. Nor did the radio programme cite refs. But, no one was searching for a woman. The sexual encounters mentioned were with both sexes.

      • Hi Penelope

        Sorry for a delay with this reply to your comment. I don’t thing there’s anything between us on slavery; we both abhor the very idea that one person can own another as his or her own property. However, we have the luxury of living in today’s soft times when it’s hard to put ourselves in the shoes of people who may have ended up living on the edge of starvation or violent extermination. In such circumstances to become a slave to a somewhat considerate master might have seemed a rather happy option, offering regular food, accommodation and physical protection. It’s that kind of situation I had in mind when I used the words ‘benign mutual benefit’ but I well accept that it is a relative judgement (to something much more deliberately cruel) in a utilitarian situation rather than a moral justification.

        • Hi Don
          Agreed. It might have been more secure to be a fed slave than a starting day labourer. I have read research on how many were living under subsistence level in the Roman Empire.
          I think some people do romanticise biblical slavery (which is what I was getting at) and also don’t realise that the Mosaic law wasn’t observed in the Roman Empire.
          Thanks for engaging.

  35. Christopher There is another way of looking at this. In his presentation to Pilling working group, Professor Oliver O’Donovan (not usually dismissed for being ‘ immature’ or ‘rebellious’) suggested there is something genuinely new about the ways in which same-sex identity and relationships are being constructed and interpreted in contemporary society. Not surprisingly this is raising new and complex questions about the church’s understanding and response. He continued, “it will require a great deal of straightforward observation, perhaps over several generations, before we can begin to answer any of these questions with confidence”. I think he is right. Something new is going on. We haven’t been here before. We are on a journey that requires trust, faith and commitment beyond familiar boundaries with a God who makes all things new.

    • What a wonderful God. He obligingly has the sordid priorities of the particular narrow generation and culture that happens presently to be trying to use him as a puppet. Yea, he maketh all things new.

    • Hi David.

      The question is how new really is it? I assume the main new feature you refer to is the commitment to fidelity and permanence. But how successful is this aspiration? Consider what Dr Joseph Nicolosi writes in ‘An Open Secret: The Truth About Gay Male Couples’:

      “In one recent study of gay male couples, 41.3% had open sexual agreements with some conditions or restrictions, and 10% had open sexual agreements with no restrictions on sex with outside partners. One-fifth of participants (21.9%) reported breaking their agreement in the preceding 12 months, and 13.2% of the sample reported having unprotected anal intercourse in the preceding three months with an outside partner of unknown or discordant HIV-status.

      This study follows the classic research of McWhirter and Mattison, reported in The Male Couple (1984), which found that not a single male pair was able to maintain fidelity in their relationship for more than five years. Outside affairs, the researchers found, were not damaging to the relationship’s endurance, but were in fact essential to it. “The single most important factor that keeps couples together past the ten-year mark is the lack of possessiveness they feel,” says the authors (p. 256).

      The gay community has long walked a thin public-relations line, presenting their relationships as equivalent to those of heterosexual married couples. But many gay activists portray a very different cultural ethic. Michelangelo Signorile describes the campaign “to fight for same-sex marriage and its benefits and then, once granted, redefine the institution completely–to demand the right to marry not as a way of adhering to society’s moral codes, but rather to debunk a myth and radically alter an archaic institution.” (1974, p 3).”

      Add to this the terrifying statistics on venereal disease – on a conservative estimate 1 in 8 gay men in London has HIV – and you have to ask whether this is really such a new and welcome thing after all.

      Are you sure you really want to line up behind this movement? Don’t forget that most of its proponents even within the church don’t support biblical chastity – they’re not arguing that gay sex should only occur within these supposedly permanent and faithful relationships. So it’s a double abandonment of scriptural teaching.

      And if you doubt the Bible’s teaching on this, don’t forget the reflections of NT scholar Luke Timothy Johnson:

      ‘I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says? We must state our grounds for standing in tension with the clear commands of Scripture, and include in those grounds some basis in Scripture itself. To avoid this task is to put ourselves in the very position that others insist we already occupy—that of liberal despisers of the tradition and of the church’s sacred writings, people who have no care for the shared symbols that define us as Christian.’ … ‘I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality.’

      But is this really what the experience of research shows us is the truth about modern same-sex relationships? Are they really a brand new thing of permanence and faithfulness? Or is it a seductive myth, and a rotten altar on which to sacrifice fidelity to God’s word? Does the evidence not rather prove God right?

      It’s not too late to return to the orthodox side of this debate and stand with those who support biblical chastity against those who would baptize the zeitgeist in contravention of the holy word of God.

  36. Which is exactly why I used the word sordid. ‘Come out of her my people’ and don’t let any more precious children’s and ex-children’s lives get wrecked by the seductive, empty, destructive sexual revolution. Christians have largely been easily able to identify it as evil since it broke out 50 years ago.

  37. Will – you ask me a question, speculate on what my answer is and then reply at length on the assumption your guess it right. Unfortunately you are wrong.
    What is new? Fidelity and commitment? No. I would rather assume gay people in every age have longed for that – like the rest of us. It is not good be alone. What is new in history is a growing public (and Christian) consensus towards societies that accept, celebrate and support such relationships alongside heterosexual ones. A long way to go though.
    But I really struggle with your line of argument – used by others on an off through this thread.

    No one ever argues from the clear statistics about chronic levels of heterosexual infidelity, divorce rates, promiscuity and levels of sexually transmitted disease in Western society that heterosexuals are self evidently incapable of faithful, long term committed relationships. Why not? So why assume that of gay relationships?

    Heterosexual commitment is clearly tough enough even when it is legally, financially and spiritually supported in mainstream society. What kind of relational stability do you expect to be evident in communities that have:
    – long term histories of being violently persecuted, mocked, marginalised and despised
    – been offered no social, legal, financial or Christian support and have to keep their commitments secret.
    And who as a result of the points above ….
    – have to manage high levels of emotional and psychological stress?
    What sort of shape would your relationships be in if you lived with that lot?

    For that reason I want to say I find the use of statistical analysis about the intimate details of the relational sexual lives of certain groups on this thread highly intrusive, offensive and lacking in any pastoral imagination.
    The Christians I know who happen to gay, in committed relationships or celibate, aspire to gospel holiness of life just like Christians who are heterosexual. They are often a challenge to me. Meanwhile we don’t need statistics to tell us there are patterns of relating in others parts of society – gay and straight – that are promiscuous, deeply damaged and desperately loveless. And that is part of our mission field in the love of Christ.

    • David, no-one can simultaneously be truthful and selective. You are being selective in saying which questions we should and should not be asking. But who are you to make such a ruling? It smacks of bias and spin.

      We should be clear on this. The more questions we ask, the more angles we see, the more accurate we will be. The fewer, the less accurate. We are right to suspect that the questions people ask us to avoid are the ones they would dearly love to go away. We will take the path of honesty and accuracy; the other path is no good at all.

      You say ‘I would rather assume gay people in every age have longed for [fidelity and commitment].’ I will enumerate the errors here:

      (1) It does not matter whether someone ‘would rather’ or *wants* to think this. The question is which way the evidence points.

      (2) The word assume is ‘unscholarly’. Never assume anything. Research rather than asserting things unresearched.

      (3) You generalise about gay people. Why are gay people not allowed to be various?

      (4) The evidence on the ground does not look like a subgroup that especially longs for fidelity and commitment. Quite the reverse – of all subgroups they are (males in view here) the ones who least produce or evince it, therefore they are probably the subgroup who on average want it least.

      You also talk of people who ‘happen to be’ gay, a fundamental error, since circumstances are by some distance the main factor, as I have often expounded (see my chapter 11 in ‘What Are They Teaching The Children’).

      You are also speaking as though all statistics were the same as each other, even widely different ones.
      But even a 5 year old knows that 28 does not equal 81. A 400% increase is not the same thing as a 2 percent decrease. Ought not an adult debate have advanced beyond making sub 5 year old errors?

      Can we stop running away from reality here.

    • Actually, David, only an estimated 1% of natural marriages are open.

      The proportion of open same-sex marriages doesn’t decrease with time or social acceptance – the level in Sweden remains around 50%.

      You assume gay people have always sought permanence but the statistics suggest that, as a rule, you are wrong, and this is not contradicted by the outliers you happen to know. You also propose that social acceptance will decrease the level of promiscuity but the statistics refute that claim too. But then you’re clearly not interested in actually engaging with evidence as you then rather unhelpfully accuse me of being highly offensive and intrusive. Surely in an intellectual debate about the truth of a matter empirical evidence should be welcomed, not dismissed as inappropriate and efforts made to discredit the person who brings it.

      You say I’m wrong in thinking that what you think is new is commitment. Yet that is what is frequently said to be the new dimension – permanent, faithful, stable. You quote O’Donovan saying ‘there is something genuinely new about the ways in which same-sex identity and relationships are being constructed and interpreted in contemporary society’, which surely refers to PSF. But now you say the difference is social acceptance. But then your argument is merely that the church should accept same-sex relationships because society accepts them. But that is obviously nonsense.

      I, and others on this thread, have explained why same-sex sexual relationships are disordered from an a priori point of view, how that manifests in demonstrable harms and undesirable social and moral consequences, and how that tallies with what scripture says on the matter and the current and orthodox teaching of the church. I just have to hope now that whatever it is that might persuade you to see these things aright will come across your path before too long.

  38. Will and Christopher. We have two such painfully opposed ways of describing the same world, people and the task of reading scripture within it don’t we? It is painful clash here not least because where you engage with the world in which I am glad to live and move and have my being you can only see things that need words like sordid, immature, rebellion – and based upon a wilful misuse of scripture. I have never described your world in such terms and I do not doubt your concerns are genuine. But I remain concerned by your methodology and still consider you to be deeply mistaken in your approach and conclusions. But thank you again for attempting to engage – bruises and all. Packing for holiday.

    • Hi David. I haven’t actually used sordid, immature and rebellion. I try to avoid personal language in my comments (but don’t always succeed).

      Have a good holiday!

    • Hi David

      Will is correct. All those 3 words were used by me. I try to use words that are proportional, precise, and appropriate. There are times when the most extreme language best fits the facts, just as there are times when more moderate language fits the facts.

      I do not have any way of describing the world short of that given us by publicly available data, which is no more mine than yours or anyone else’s.

      Moreover, I do not have a world at all. The world all of us inhabit is the same world.

      Your inaccuracy in the above comment is noteworthy. You write that in ‘my’ entire world I can see only sordidness, immaturity and rebellion. But I can see thousands of things!!! These three types of things exist in places in the real world which we all inhabit, whether we like to look at them or acknowledge the fact or not. But thankfully the majority of the world we all inhabit is not to be described in those terms.

      Is it that you are objecting to *anything at all* being described in those terms? The world is after all a big place. It is bound to include such things within it.

      Nor do I understand the reference to ‘methodology/approach’. Which methodology/approach?

      It is not a ‘methodology’ to cite peer-reviewed literature. Rather, it is essential to do so. The only alternative ‘methodology’ would be to avoid it, ostrich-like.

      Your use of ‘painfully’ also makes the whole thing an emotional matter. Yet what I am dealing with is facts rather than emotions. Facts will necessarily elicit emotions including very deep ones sometimes, of course.

      Your comment is 8.1 lines long, yet all of the above misunderstandings and incoherent presuppositions were contained within it.

  39. My main point, however, is that it is best to address the specific points that are made, rather than dealing in generalities and comparatively vague reflections.

  40. Christopher Oh well …. another lecture from you. You make ‘being right’ immensely unattractive and it is quite apparent that this subject causes you immense anxiety. I am signing off.

    • (1) I lay out my response. You call it a lecture, but what are people supposed to do apart from respond according to the way things seem to them?

      (2) Lectures are good things anyway, because they impart information.

      (3) It is very good that we have isolated another crucial difference. In the search for truth, being attractive is not the name of the game. How is it even relevant? (People do of course sometimes think, wrongly, that they can make up in attrractiveness what they lack in truth!) E = MC squared would not be more true, nor less true, if proclaimed by dancing girls in tutus.

      (4) Anxiety – no. Because facts rather than emotion are the subject-matter when the activity is (as it now is) debate.

      There is nothing preventing you or anyone addressing the peer-reviewed data. To do so would normally be a first priority of debate. The sidestepping of this, together with unilateral sans-consultation ‘Armageddon out of here’, is a ploy I have been spotlighting for some time.

  41. Yes the Exodus coloured treatment of Hebrew slaves, but the opposite was true of captured non-Hebrew slaves (Contrast Leviticus 25:39-43 with 44-46). Also disingenuous on slavery in the NT (eg 2nd sentence of para 6). Not a good criticism of a ‘trajectory’ parallel with s.s. relationships.

    • Hi Peter.

      I fail to see what is disingenuous about This leaves the door open to the real possibility that, when the opportunity arises, it might be much better to do away with it completely. Are you suggesting that the NT doesn’t leave that door open? That seems a strange argument. Nothing in the NT portrays slavery as a moral good to be maintained when it could be abolished. And there is plenty that suggests it is an undesirable state and that God wishes his people to be free.

      We know the OT law permitted the taking of foreign slaves. But this civil measure wasn’t reaffirmed in the NT and Christians are, at a minimum, free to abolish slavery when they have the opportunity. There’s a reason slavery disappeared from northern Europe during the Christian era, and was eventually abolished by Christians. That Christians did not sooner recognise that they could and should do away with it completely is obviously of great regret. But there is no sound comparison with same-sex marriage. Slavery is contrary to the natural moral law and was banned because Christians finally recognised that they could and should. Same-sex marriage is also contrary to the natural moral law, and scripture amply confirms this. So how can the banning of slavery provide a precedent for the unbanning of same-sex sexual relationships? The idea makes no sense.

  42. The convolutions of the sentence suggest that your prior ideological commitments (to defend the NT as well as the OT views on slavery) are getting in the way of common sense. I would suggest the same of your defence of a ‘traditional’ view of same sex relationships. I think we need to move biblical ethics beyond the realm of literalistic interpretation of texts taken out of their biblical and historical contexts. Maybe we need to look more closely at how Jesus interpreted the OT, and the Law especially. Then we might move on to Paul. There could be some surprises.

    • Hi Peter.

      You’re not advancing specific points or arguments so I’m afraid I’m not able to respond to them.

      My argument, set out in the post and amplified in this comment thread, is that slavery and same-sex marriage have very different relationships to scripture, the natural moral law, and church history. There is therefore no basis for moving from the banning of slavery to the permitting of same-sex marriage. If you want to make specific objections to these arguments then I will try to engage them.

  43. Will – I think really I’m questioning your overall methodology, especially when it comes to your supporting arguments based on scripture.

    For instance, one of the strengths of the anti-abolitionists in the southern states of America before abolition of slavery was the use of biblical arguments. By contrast, the case being used against same sex marriage today from both OT and NT is very weak (which can rather easily be demonstrated). Biblically,
    the term ‘natural moral law’ can be very misleading, as Paul appealed to something like this against men having long hair, using the same word when inveighing against the same sex practices of his day (which did not include today’s understanding of same sex marriage).

    With regard to biblical texts, church history, and supposed ‘natural moral law’, if these was our guide there would be no women bishops, priests, teachers, or leaders of any kind where the opposite sex was involved (which perhaps you might think was a good thing).

    I entered the discussion in response to what I felt was a misrepresentation of the OT on slavery (and I illustrated this). With regard to the NT, I also responded to your statement: “This leaves the door open to the real possibility that, when the opportunity arises, it might be much better to do away with it completely.”. I can’t imagine Wilberforce or anyone else getting very far with that as a biblical foundation for the reform movement.

    However, I do agree with you that there is no affirmation of same sex marriage in the bible, and there has hardly been a ‘trajectory’ in history leading to today’s legislation. The opposite: non-Christians have led the way with social reform (just as they have with women’s emancipation). Sometimes the church has to catch up with what God is doing in the world.

    With the slave trade/slavery, I do not see any trajectory through OT or NT and then on into history. Abolition did not come through a gradually awakening awareness, but through conflict and struggle. In this country, Christians led the way in opposing the slave trade/slavery. In America, Christians led the way in supporting it (eg Southern Baptists, but they were not alone).

    To repeat from the previous comment, I think we would benefit by taking a closer look at how Jesus, and Paul, interpreted the OT, and perhaps take a longer look, by contrast, at how we do it (trajectory or no trajectory).

    • Hi Peter.

      The arguments you’re advancing here have been addressed at length elsewhere on this thread so I hope you won’t mind if I don’t repeat them here.

      It does strike me though that you don’t appear to be very concerned to derive teaching from scripture. Indeed you appear to be more keen to show how scripture is wrong so you can override it with modern insights.

      Your putting natural moral law in scare quotes is also somewhat alarming. Don’t you believe God has built a moral law into his creation? Don’t you believe in a natural created order?

      You say the biblical argument against same-sex marriage is very weak. That is a ridiculous claim. Even a number of liberal scholars admit that the biblical picture of marriage is fundamentally based on the idea of humankind as created male and female, and that the NT is clear in condemning same-sex sex. They just suggest we need to use more important biblical ethical principles to set that aside in the light of modern science and experience.

      What is very weak is the idea of finding warrant for same-sex sexual relationships of any kind in a 2000 year old Jewish text which clearly condemns same-sex sex!

  44. Will – I’m sorry if I was repeating arguments which you say have been addressed at length elsewhere on the thread. I simply don’t have time to read them all. I was actually picking up initially two specific things you said in your post, which actually you didn’t respond to.

    I am indeed concerned to derive teaching from scripture, but also suggest there may be a basis for criticising your underlying methodology. This thread certainly isn’t the place to expand on that, but I do give some pointers. I’m also not sure you are quite as well informed on the counter-arguments to your own position as you assert.

    The slavery case you put forward as a rebuttal of a ‘trajectory’ parallel with same sex relationships is actually rather weak, and to return to my initial observation, suggests to me that your ideological commitments override a perhaps more balanced view of scripture. For instance, I pointed out that Leviticus 25:44-46 counters 39-43, and it gets much worse than that for foreign slaves held by Israelites. That said, I think there are anyway problems with ‘trajectory’ arguments to support same sex relationships, at least in a simplistic understanding of ‘trajectory’, and I would not endorse at all the use of a slavery argument in this way without many qualifications.

    In the end, I think the argument is about whether scripture is addressing today’s same sex marriage issue at all. I don’t think it is, and the appeal to ‘natural moral law’ in Genesis is also, in my view, open to question. When Paul talks about ‘nature’ in 1 Cor 11 (against men having long hair), and then uses exactly the same word in his diatribe against certain types of undefined same sex behaviour in Romans 1, (it certainly wasn’t the behaviour we are focusing on in the current debate), and then uses it again in Romans 2 in a way that we would perhaps understand today, one wonders if we are even talking the same language (idiomatically speaking; I don’t mean Greek and English). Add to this the appeal to Genesis 2-3 in 1 Timothy against women leading/teaching etc, where ‘the plain meaning of scripture’ as Paul has interpreted it seems quite obvious, then maybe the uncritical use of Genesis elsewhere to support specific and probably unrelated ethical/moral/social issues today is also open to question.

    This is just to illustrate that we can make assumptions about scriptural practices and terminology which are called into question by close attention to the text. The same might be said of the very few proscriptions of same sex behaviour in scripture, each of which in its own way is problematic. But if this has already been addressed at length elsewhere on this thread, then I apologise. My initial specific criticisms remain unanswered.

  45. Hi Peter.

    As I said I didn’t respond to most of the points because they have already been addressed at length elsewhere on the thread. I’m also not sure what your initial two specific points were? If you repeat them I might be able to indulge in a spot of copying and pasting for you.

    In terms of Leviticus 25 I don’t anywhere deny that Israelites took foreign slaves. And I state in the post that abolition was based on a realisation that the moral law given in the NT should apply universally and not just to Christians. I also explain some of the key features of Christian attitudes to slavery in the intervening time and how all of this relates to NT teaching on slavery and freedom.

    You seem to spend a lot of time making passing references to your opponents’ arguments being weak and their unfamiliarity with things, which is vague and not conducive to a respectful exchange of views. It makes it feel like you’re trying airily to discredit rather than actually engage in an exchange of points. You also do quite a lot of asserting that this passage of scripture is unclear, and that one could mean something else, and there’s questions over this and who can really be sure what that means, and anyway scripture isn’t addressing today’s same-sex marriage issue at all. A lot of it just feels like vague obfuscation intended to move towards the position you’ve already decided on. I certainly don’t get the impression that you are trying to discern what the scriptures are saying on this issue. More that you are trying to argue we can’t really know what scripture is saying on it because it’s all so obscure and ambiguous and culturally bound!

    In terms of what the NT says and means on this issue, here’s respected NT scholar Luke Timothy Johnson:

    ‘I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says? We must state our grounds for standing in tension with the clear commands of Scripture, and include in those grounds some basis in Scripture itself. To avoid this task is to put ourselves in the very position that others insist we already occupy—that of liberal despisers of the tradition and of the church’s sacred writings, people who have no care for the shared symbols that define us as Christian.’ … ‘I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality.’

  46. Will,

    Peter wrote:

    “I think we need to move biblical ethics beyond the realm of literalistic interpretation of texts taken out of their biblical and historical contexts. Maybe we need to look more closely at how Jesus interpreted the OT, and the Law especially. Then we might move on to Paul. There could be some surprises.”

    To which you replied:

    “I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties.”

    I am sorry you feel that following the principles of biblical interpretation set out by people like James Packer (The Interpretation of Scripture from from ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God (Inter-Varsity Press, 1958) see ) and Richard France (Inerrancy and New Testament Exegesis. Themelios 1.1 (Autumn 1975) see ) is trying to make Scripture say something other than what it says. I believe these methods are based firmly on the methods set out by the protestant reformers in the Westminster Confession.

    Your views suggest you would follow more closely the ideas set out by GAFCON in their Jerusalem statement, which includes the words “The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading.” I am not sure where we would be if the Protestant reformers had followed that line.

    France quotes examples where understanding the literature of the time opens up the understanding of a passage. He cites 1 Pet 3:19-20 which becomes properly understandable if the reader has read the Book of Enoch.

    We need to be careful in our reading of Scripture we use all the resources available to us and not just the resources available to our forebears.

    After nearly half a century of reading the Scriptures I am still surprised by new understandings of familiar words that I had somehow missed previously. I know I am not alone in this.

    • Nick, to be fair to Will, I think it is worth pointing out the difference between the kind of thing that France is highlighting—which is part of a well-respected historical approach to Scripture, reading it in its own historical context—and contemporary forms of reader-response criticism, which prioritises the agenda of the current reader (philosophically, intellectually and existentially) and denies any fixed sense of ‘meaning’ to texts.

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